What is the Spleen?
The spleen is a blood-filled organ normally about the size of your fist, under the ribs high on the left side of the abdomen. It is part of the body’s lymphatic system and has several functions, most notably filtering the blood for damaged cells and providing an immune response to certain bacteria. It is normally about 6-7 ounces in weight and is purple in color.
What are Indications for Spleen Surgery?
Splenectomy is the technical name of spleen surgery and is used to treat a variety of conditions. In some of these conditions the blood becomes depleted of important components, like red blood cells or platelets (which aid in blood clotting). In others the spleen may become dangerously enlarged or bleed. Indications can be one of the following:
- Blood diseases: Blood disorders that may be treated with splenectomy include idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, spherocytosis, hemolytic anemia. But splenectomy is typically performed only after other treatments have failed to reduce the symptoms of these disorders.
- Trauma: the spleen can rupture due to a severe abdominal injury requiring surgical removal.
- Enlarged spleen: Splenomegaly may be causing abdominal symptoms and might require surgical removal to control symptoms.
- Malignant Diseases: Cancers that may be treated with splenectomy include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia.
- Infections: Infected collections around or inside the spleen like splenic abscesses that are not responding to medical treatment might require surgery.
- Noncancerous Tumors: these are non-malignant cysts or tumors of the spleen may require splenectomy if they become large and causing local symptoms.
Life Without a Spleen
Surgical removal of the spleen or laparoscopic splenectomy is not a very common procedure. Due to its function in immunity, planning needs to be done to replace the function of the spleen with the appropriate vaccines. Not having a spleen may result in increased risk of certain infections, and if there is time to prepare for surgery, you will be asked to get immunized against these infections 2 weeks before the operation, or 2 weeks after the operation depending on your surgeon’s preference. Your doctor may recommend that you receive vaccines against pneumonia, influenza, haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and meningococci.
Spleen Surgery: Laparoscopic Splenectomy
If you need surgical removal of the spleen, this can be done using a type of surgery called laparoscopic splenectomy. People who have this procedure usually recover more quickly and have less pain than with open surgery. Our group performs another type of minimally invasive spleen surgery using the robot, known as robotic splenectomy.