When it comes to leukemia, surgery has a limited role in treatment. The main reason is that the cancer cells are not clustered together in a single, removable tumor, but rather usually spread widely throughout the body as the blood circulates, making surgical removal virtually impossible. Because leukemia is a systemic condition, the best approach to treatment is usually chemotherapy or biological therapy.
With that said, some types of surgery that may be recommended for a leukemia patient include:
- Placement of a venous access device – The surgical implantation of a plastic tube into a large vein in the chest or upper arm can reduce the need for continual needle sticks for drug injections, blood testing and bone marrow transplants, all of which may be recommended during leukemia treatment.
- Lymph node biopsy – Although it is relatively uncommon for leukemia cells to metastasize to lymph nodes, this can sometimes occur, particularly when the condition transforms into Richter’s syndrome, a type of lymphoma. If a physician suspects lymph node involvement, a lymph node can be surgically removed for evaluation under a microscope.
- Splenectomy – Leukemia can sometimes cause the spleen to become clogged and enlarged with excess tissue, which can lead to pain and impaired function. As a result, as the spleen filters the blood, it can sometimes inadvertently destroy too many red blood cells or platelets, leading to anemia. A splenectomy, or surgical removal of the spleen, can help relieve the symptoms of anemia, including fatigue and shortness of breath.
- Bone marrow transplantation – A bone marrow transplant involves the injection of stem cells into a vein, which can stimulate the production of healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. By replacing cells that are lost through chemotherapy or radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant can allow a patient to receive higher and more effective treatment dosages.
Can leukemia be cured completely?
While there is no known “cure” for any kind of cancer, leukemia can be effectively treated, especially when it’s caught early. Research has made significant strides in leukemia treatment over the years, and its survival rate has more than quadrupled since the 1960s. Every patient is different. That’s why Moffitt’s multispecialty team collaborates to create individualized treatment plans for each patient. This ensures that every leukemia patient receives the ideal approach to treatment for his or her circumstances, for the best possible outcome and quality of life.
Moffitt’s approach to leukemia surgery
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our Malignant Hematology Program features a multispecialty team with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating leukemia. Our talented leukemia team consists of oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, pathologists and other cancer experts who collaborate weekly to review each patient’s progress and recommend treatment adjustments. For instance, our team may recommend that a patient consider options available exclusively through our robust clinical trial program. Our researchers and clinicians are continually evaluating new and better leukemia drugs and surgery techniques to ensure that our patients have access to promising new options before they are accessible elsewhere.