Leukemia Treatment Surgery

Surgery for leukemia patients is relatively uncommon. Unlike other types of cancer, leukemia cells don’t produce tumors that can be removed. Instead, the cancerous cells spread through the bloodstream.

Surgery for leukemia does, however, provide supportive treatment in order to:

  • Aid in diagnosis
  • Facilitate chemotherapy medication
  • Relieve symptoms.

Lymph Node Surgery for Leukemia

An examination of bone marrow is typically used to confirm a diagnosis of leukemia. However, some situations may call for lymph node surgery, during which swollen lymph nodes are removed and evaluated for leukemia. The technical term for lymph node surgery is a lymphadenectomy.

Spleenectomy: Surgical Removal of Spleen

The spleen filters damaged blood cells out of the bloodstream, and also removes blood cells that are reaching the end of their lives. Some types of chronic leukemia — most notably chronic lymphocytic leukemia — can cause the spleen to enlarge. An enlarged spleen puts pressure on surrounding abdominal tissue and organs, causing discomfort and pain. The enlarged spleen may also remove too many blood cells from circulation.

Spleen-related leukemia complications are uncommon. Surgical removal of spleen, also known as a splenectomy, may be necessary to relieve the pain caused by an enlarged spleen.

Central Venous Catheterization

Chemotherapy for leukemia can require numerous injections. Central venous catheterization can reduce the number of injections required during surgery.

Also known as a vascular access device, a central venous catheter is a surgically installed device for the delivery of chemotherapy. Central venous catheterization inserts a thin tube called a catheter into a large vein in the chest or arm. The tube is threaded through the circulatory system until it reaches a vein near the heart.

Central venous catheterization delivers chemotherapy medication quickly, without the discomfort caused by multiple injections. Once treatment for leukemia ends, the catheter is removed.

Central venous catheterization is not without risks. Complications of central venous catheterization include:

  • Bleeding during insertion
  • Blocks or kinks in the catheter that interfere with medication delivery
  • Infection
  • Movement of the catheter requiring removal and reinsertion
  • Pain at insertion site
  • Pneumothorax (a collapsed lung, which is a rare complication of catheterization through the chest).

Omaya Reservoir

Leukemia can spread to the central nervous system. Treatment of leukemia in the central nervous system normally requires the delivery of chemotherapy through spinal taps.

For patients who need numerous leukemia treatments, an Omaya reservoir may be used. An Omaya reservoir is a device surgically placed under the scalp to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to the central nervous system. The device eliminates the need for multiple spinal taps.

Surgery for leukemia plays only a small role in leukemia treatment, but it can be a valuable supportive tool. Before undergoing any surgical procedure, it is important that patients discuss the benefits and risks of surgery with a doctor.


Health Communities. (2010). Leukemia: Surgery. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.oncologychannel.com/leukemias/surgery.shtml.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2004). Chemotherapy. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page.adp?item_id=8498.