What is a splenectomy?

A splenectomy is an operation to remove the spleen. The spleen is an organ in the upper part of the abdomen, on the left-hand side. It is normally about the size of a clenched fist. It helps us to fight infection and removes old and damaged blood cells from the bloodstream.

A diagram showing the spleen:

The diagram shows the spleen, which is on the left side of the abdomen. The diagram also shows the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen.

When is a splenectomy done?

You may have a splenectomy as part of your treatment for:

How is a splenectomy done?

If the spleen is not too large, this operation can be done using laparoscopic surgery (sometimes called keyhole surgery). Instead of making one large cut, the surgeon makes 4 or 5 small cuts (incisions). A flexible tube with a camera and light on the end is put into the tummy area through one of these cuts. This lets the surgeon see inside the tummy to operate. The surgeon uses specially designed instruments to remove the spleen.

After a splenectomy

The spleen helps to protect the body from bacterial infections. If you do not have a spleen, you will still be able to cope with most infections. But it is possible that a serious infection could develop quickly.

At least 14 days before an operation to remove the spleen, you will need to have vaccinations to boost your ability to fight certain infections.

Your doctor will talk to you about some things you should do. It is important to:

  • Have vaccinations as advised by your medical team.
  • Carry a card or wear a medical alert bracelet to tell people you do not have a spleen. This is in case there is a medical emergency.
  • Remind your doctor and dentist that you do not have a spleen.
  • Contact your doctor immediately if you have any signs of infection.
  • Try to avoid cuts, scratches and insect bites. Contact your doctor for advice about any cuts, scratches or bites. If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, including by a cat or dog, contact your doctor straight away for advice.
  • Ask your doctor for advice before travelling abroad to countries where you may need vaccinations or anti-malarial medicines.
  • Take any medicines that your doctor prescribes for you. You may be advised to take daily antibiotics for the first few years after your operation.

We have more information about surgery.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Rajnish Gupta, Macmillan Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 January 2018
Next review: 31 July 2020

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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