Leukemia exists as individual cells that travel throughout the body. It does not form solid tumors like most other cancers. As a result, surgery is not a primary treatment for leukemia. Surgery may be done to relieve complications or to support a treatment process.


Leukemia cells circulate in the blood and can deposit in organs, where they become trapped. The spleen is a small organ that filters the blood and is vulnerable to a build-up of leukemia cells. When the cells build up in the spleen, it can lead to swelling, which causes pain, fatigue, a full feeling after eating very little, and easy bleeding.

A splenectomy (the removal of the spleen) may be the only way to relieve symptoms. This surgery can often be done laparoscopically through small incisions in the abdomen. It is possible to live without a spleen, but it increases the risk of certain bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. Extra protection against some infections can be attained with vaccines and lifestyle changes.

Access Catheters

An access catheter line may be implanted. Catheters eliminate the need for multiple needlesticks. Types of catheters that may be used include:

  • Central venous catheter (CVC)—A tube is guided into a large central vein in the chest with a wire. The tube connects to a catheter that is secured to the outside of the body. Medications are delivered through the catheter. Blood samples can also be taken.
  • Ventricular access catheter—Some leukemia treatments require chemotherapy delivery directly to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. A tube is inserted into the fluid-filled spaces in the brain through a small hole in the skull. The other end of the tube contains a reservoir, which remains under the scalp. Chemotherapy can be given directly into the CFS and samples can be taken through the reservoir using a small needle.

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