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The Ascendance of Laparoscopic Splenectomy


From the *Department of General Surgery, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio and †Department of Surgery, Medical Center of the Carolinas, Charlotte, North Carolina
The application of laparoscopic techniques for abdominal procedures has been achieved with varying success. The general acceptance of laparoscopic splenectomy (LS) may be hindered by its infrequent performance and difficulty in manipulating the spleen. A retrospective review of splenectomies performed for primary splenic pathology was done to assess the role and outcome of LS. One hundred fifty LSs were performed from July 1995 through September 1999. Over that time period the proportion of LS performed increased steadily from 17 to 75 per cent of all splenectomies. The primary indications for splenectomy included immune thrombocytopenic purpura in 75 (50%), lymphoma/leukemia 36 (24%), and splenomegaly 19 (13%). There were 86 females and 64 males. Immediately before operation 36 patients (4%) had a platelet count <50,000/ mL, and 24 patients (16%) a hemoglobin <10 mg per cent. The mean operative time was 161 minutes with an average blood loss of 138 cm3 (<50–800). The mean morcellated weight of the entire group was 411 g (33–3300) indicating generally large splenic size. In the 37 patients with splenomegaly the mean weight was 735 g (293–3300). There were two conversions to open splenectomy. Two patients with hematologic malignancy, splenomegaly, and cytopenias died from overwhelming post-splenectomy sepsis (1.3%). Morbidity occurred in 14 (9%) with the most common complication being pancreatitis in seven (5%). The median length of postoperative stay was 2.4 days (range 1–5). In summary LS has rapidly replaced the open approach for nearly all elective splenectomies in adults and children. When performed with the patient in the lateral position it can be accomplished with minimal morbidity, even in complex patients, including those with splenomegaly.

acceptance of laparoscopic choT lecystectomy has fostered an enthusiasm towards the modification of nearly all intra-abdominal operaHE SUCCESS AND

tions to laparoscopically assisted procedures with varying success. The goal of all laparoscopic procedures is to provide a safe and effective alternative that reduces patient discomfort and disability, utilization of resources, and costs.1 These requirements have clearly been achieved in the procedures of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, adrenalectomy, and antireflux surgery while being inconclusive for appendectomy, colectomy, and hernia repair. The role of laparoscopy for splenectomy also appears to fulfill these goals. Splenectomy may be required in the management of a variety of hematologic disorders and as a consequence of trauma. Depending on the nature of the disease removal of the spleen may be required for diagnosis, staging, or therapeutic reasons. Improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of hematologic

diseases have recently been complemented by the application of minimally invasive techniques to the performance of splenectomy. Several factors may combine to adversely impact the application of laparoscopy to splenectomy. These include the relative infrequency of the procedure, the advanced skills required, difficulty in directly manipulating the spleen, and attendant bleeding risks with the frequently concurrent cytopenias and dyscrasias. We sought to review our experience with laparoscopic splenectomy to determine its overall success and applicability.
Patient Characteristics

Address correspondence and reprint requests to R. Matthew Walsh, M.D., Department of General Surgery, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44195.

Laparoscopic splenectomy was introduced at the Cleveland Clinic in July 1995 and more recently at the Medical Center of the Carolinas in July 1998. Through September of 1999 a total of 150 elective laparoscopic splenectomies were attempted for nontraumatic, hematologic diseases as indicated in Table 1. Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) was clearly the most frequent indication in 75 patients, accounting for 50 per cent of the entire group. Other indications included lymphoma in 26 (17%); splenomegaly in 19 (12.6%); leukemia in 10 (6.6%); spherocytosis and hemolytic

Operative Technique The right lateral decubitus position is our preferred approach for laparoscopic splenectomy and is particularly well suited for patients with splenomegaly. Occasionally better access to the diaphragm is needed and can be accomplished with a fourth or fifth trocar positioned further posterior to the usual three trocars. Additionally at the time of operation. Mobilizations of the inferior pole including branches from the epiploic vessels are divided between clips or with a harmonic scalpel. A 5/10-mm 30° or 45° laparoscope is a requirement. There also may be areas of autoinfarction that lead to inflammatory adhesions to the diaphragm and omentum. During the first 3 years after the introduction of laparoscopic splenectomy at the Cleveland Clinic a total of 115 splenectomies (open and laparoscopic) were performed. splenic mass and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) in three each. torsion. The operating-room table is flexed at the level of the umbilicus to lengthen the distance between the iliac crest and the costal margin. Enlargement of the spleen can result in unusual and rounded configurations that in addition to sheer size and weight make the spleen difficult to manipulate. and the middle port is halfway between. and in the right axilla. Thirty-seven adults (27%) had splenomegaly as defined by a cranial-caudal length greater than 11 cm or a morcellated weight greater than 300 g. Prophylactic antibiotics are given immediately before surgery. Lateral positioning facilitates manipulation of the spleen by taking advantage of gravity to expose the TABLE 1. At least one week before operation patients receive a polyvalent pneumococcal. respectively. The introduction of laparoscopic splenectomy did not replace open splenectomy.No. the medial port is close to the midline. There were 12 pediatric patients ranging in age from 4 to 17 years. and 24 patients (16%) had a hemoglobin less than 10 mg per cent. Port sites are tentatively marked so that after insufflation the optimal positions will be 4 cm below the inferior tip of the spleen but within reach of the diaphragm. Typically three 10-mm ports are required. The mean age of the remaining 138 adult patients was 54 years (range 18–89). and contained rupture in one each. respectively.000/mL. and 60 per year. The typical position of the lateral port is at the level of the 11th rib tip. but it has largely supplanted its role. Substantial inferior and lateral placement of the trocars may be necessary with massive splenomegaly. Proceeding in an inferior-to-superior direction the peritoneal attachments are sharply divided approximately one cm from the spleen. Reverse Trendelenburg position allows for blood and irrigation fluid to collect in the pelvis away from the operative field. An open insertion at the middle port is performed followed by all additional ports placed under laparoscopic guidance. and splenic cyst. of Patients ITP Lymphoma Splenomegaly Leukemia Hemolytic anemia Hereditary spherocytosis TTP Splenic mass Splenic abscess Splenic cyst Torsion Contained rupture Splenic artery aneurysm Total 75 26 19 10 4 4 3 3 2 1 1 1 1 150 retroperitoneal attachments and allow a safe dissection even in the presence of dense diaphragmatic adhesions. 23. Fewer trocars are typically required and splenic retraction can be accomplished with less risk of capsular disruption. and there were 86 females and 64 males. Mobilization of the splenic flexure of the colon is performed when necessary. a urinary catheter is placed. During this period the proportion of laparoscopic splenectomies performed per year increased from 17 to 38 to 75 per cent. between the legs. The dissection continues lateral to medial with retraction toward the midline by a blunt grasper until the pancreas and hilar vessels are visualized. Over a short span of time laparoscopic splenectomy has largely replaced traditional splenectomy regardless of operative indication and has also resulted in an overall increase in the number of splenectomies performed. 32. and any additional invasive monitoring that may be required is performed before rolling to a right-lateral decubitus position. splenic abscess in two. The operation proceeds best when the laparoscope is exchanged between the medial and lateral trocars and the . 49 anemia in four each. Rolled blankets are placed at the umbilicus. 1 LAPAROSCOPIC SPLENECTOMY и Walsh et al. and polysaccharide Haemophilus-B conjugate vaccine. The extended arms are secured by a double-arm board. Patients undergo endotracheal intubation in the supine position. meningococcal. Laparoscopic splenectomy is typically a two-person operation with both persons facing the patient’s abdomen. Proper patient positioning and padding are important to achieve maximal operative exposure and avoid neurovascular traction and pressure injuries. Patient Characteristics: Indications for Laparoscopic Splenectomy No. 36 patients (24%) had a platelet count less than 50. The surgeon and assistant direct their attention to a single video monitor over the patient’s left shoulder for in-line operating.

and only one patient. the operative site is irrigated. Results group was 411 g. The abdomen is reinsufflated. The mean operative time was 161 minutes (range 69–389). The mean length of stay after a successful laparoscopic splenectomy was 2. The most common morbidity was pancreatic injury in seven (5%) which was manifested by clinical pancreatitis or an amylase-rich postoperative fluid collection. one with documented preoperative fungemia. Occasionally placement of a massively enlarged spleen into the bag is expeditiously accomplished by using a hand-assisted technique.4 days (range 1–5). Patients are encouraged to ambulate beginning the day of surgery. who had been converted. Typically the trocar site nearest the nondominant hand is enlarged to just allow insertion of the hand. received a transfusion for operative bleeding. pulmonary embolus. Discussion Laparoscopic splenectomy was able to be completed in all but two patients (98. Additional complications included atelectasis in two.3–5 With the patient turned gravity acts as a retractor that greatly facilitates manipulation of the spleen and allows for blood to collect away from the operative field.3 cm (range 12–25) with a mean weight of 735 g (range 293–3300). Rapid acceptance of the procedure has been noted in our experience by the current high proportion of laparoscopic splenectomies that occurred over a 3-year period despite the lack of prospective comparative trials. A drain is placed if a pancreatic injury is suspected. The transcendence of the procedure has corresponded with a simultaneous evolution in the operative technique.6%). The spleen is then placed into an appropriately sized impermeable retrieval bag. The patients have the orogastric tube and typically the urinary catheter removed in the operating room. The opening of the bag is delivered through the largest port site and excised in chunks with a ringed forceps. The adaptability and creativity that has been fostered by laparoscopic surgery led to the modification of the procedure to a lateral approach. and in one patient each abscess. Not unexpectedly the initial laparoscopic attempts used an anterior approach to the spleen that closely resembled the traditional approach to splenectomy. and died from rapidly developing post-splenectomy sepsis. In three patients a laparoscopic hand-assist device was required for manipulation or extraction of an enlarged spleen. splenomegaly and cytopenias.6 per cent of procedures were successfully completed laparoscopically. 67 surgeon operates with both hands. Thus even in the setting of splenomegaly 94.3%) occurring within 2 weeks of surgery.50 THE AMERICAN SURGEON January 2001 Vol. Serum amylase and hemoglobin levels are obtained the morning after surgery. The types of complications related to laparoscopic splenectomy are similar to those of open splenectomy. The remaining hilar pedicle is divided with a vascular gastrointestinal anastomosis stapler. This bag should be strong yet flexible so that it is easy to manipulate but will not rupture during extraction. This patient positioning requires more trocars yet results in frequent splenic rupture and conversions due to the need but the inability to directly manipulate the organ. Care should be taken when mobilizing the superior pole to identify the greater curvature of the stomach and short gastric vessels. Several firings of the stapler are usually required and may also be used to divide the short gastric vessels. and repeat laparoscopy for suspected (but not found) bleeding. Often the most challenging aspect of the operation is placing an enlarged spleen in the retrieval bag. There were two operative mortalities (1. The average cranial-caudal length in patients with splenomegaly was 17. The hilum is grasped with a right-handed instrument and the spleen is slid into the bag while the patient is placed in the Trendelenburg position. portal vein thrombosis. This is facilitated by placing the closed end of the bag at the diaphragm and widely opening the bag toward the lateral trocar while holding the posterior lip of the bag with a left-handed instrument. The reasons for conversion in these two patients with splenomegaly were a suspected gastrotomy in one and bleeding from a capsular tear in a previously irradiated spleen with extensive perisplenic adhesions in the other. An additional 14 patients (9%) developed complications requiring a prolonged hospital stay or readmission. and hemostasis is assured. Introduced in 19912 laparoscopic splenectomy has offered an equivalent alternative to traditional splenectomy without protracted discomfort and disability and fewer wound and pulmonary complications. wound infection. Both had malignant hematologic disease. This significant alteration in the procedure has been associated with successful comple- . If preferred a 10-mm right-angled clamp can individually dissect the hilar and short gastric vessels before placing clips. At a mean follow-up of 19 months there were nine patients with persistent recurrent ITP (12%). none were found to have a remaining accessory spleen by nuclear imaging. The average blood loss was 138 cm3 (range <50–800). The average morcellated splenic weight of the entire Similar to other laparoscopic intra-abdominal procedures laparoscopic splenectomy has great appeal for patients requiring splenectomy. A liquid diet is started the evening after surgery and regular diet the first postoperative day.

Laparoscopic splenectomy may also be successfully applied to staging in Hodgkin’s disease when the status of abdominal disease will alter management. vascular pedicle. and one series has reported a 50 per cent persistence of splenic tissue by nuclear imaging. The earliest attempts at laparoscopic splenectomy were performed for ITP owing to its overall frequency and normal splenic size. Our early experience has shown a rapid rise in the total number of splenectomies performed and likely reflects broad patient and physician acceptance of laparoscopy and an increase in appropriate referrals. and splenic ligaments. This is not an infrequent problem as 27 per cent of our laparoscopic patients had associated splenomegaly. although few had clinically recurrent disease. and amelioration of hypersplenism and immune-mediated cytopenias.15 Should a missed accessory spleen be ultimately discovered to account for recurrent disease then repeat laparoscopic excision may be accomplished. pancreatic tail. The overall morbidity of laparoscopic splenectomy should not exceed 10 per cent and is usually attributable to hemorrhage or pancreatitis. including splenectomy (Table 2). 24 There is reason to be optimistic that the acceptance of laparoscopic splenectomy will result in earlier diagnosis and effective palliation of hematologic malignancies. and difficulty in placing the spleen in the retrieval bag. 9 Medical therapy is initially indicated for the treatment of ITP with splenectomy reserved for an inability to achieve or sustain remission or for complications developing during medical therapy. fulminant sepsis accounts for an operative mortality in 2 to 4 per cent of patients after splenectomy and is usually related to the underlying malignant hematologic disease.5. Splenectomy is warranted for these types of hematologic malignancies for diagnosis. Nearly all of these were completed laparoscopically and are typically associated with longer operative times.8.19 A diliTABLE 2. Indications for Splenectomy Hematologic disorders Hemolytic anemias Hereditary spherocytosis Thalassemia major Sickle cell disease Autoimmune hemolytic anemia Pyruvate kinase deficiency Thrombocytopenias ITP TTP Myeloproliferative disorders Myelofibrosis Neoplasia Hairy cell leukemia Hodgkin’s disease Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma Chronic lymphocyte leukemia Miscellaneous disease Felty syndrome Gaucher’s disease Sarcoidosis Splenic cysts Splenic vein thrombosis Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome Splenic artery aneurysm Splenic abscess Trauma gent search should routinely be made to identify accessory spleens during elective splenectomy in the splenic hilum. and shorter hospital stay as compared with traditional surgery. Perioperative complications are well known after splenectomy and are not eliminated by the adaptation to laparoscopy. Durable responses to splenectomy are expected in 70 to 90 per cent of patients regardless of the operative approach.23. treatment of intractable pain.6. 22 The suspicion of malignant disease is not a contraindication for laparoscopic splenectomy. respiratory compromise. An enlarged spleen makes the performance more challenging because of the reduced functional operating space.20 Splenectomy may be required for benign or malignant hematologic disease associated with splenomegaly. Fortunately rare. In our experience it accounted for half of all operations. 5–7 The addition of laparoscopic techniques has not altered the indications for any operation.13–17 This problem may be of particular concern for patients operated in the lateral position.3. nor have the other postoperative complications. The dreaded and often lethal complication is that of overwhelming post-splenectomy infection. 10–12 Concern has been raised as to the ability to identify accessory spleens that may be present in 10 to 30 per cent of patients and can result in recurrence of disease. Two of the most common causes of splenomegaly in our experience were chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. enlarged hilar vessels. but additional care should be taken to avoid splenic disruption.21 Our experience has shown that laparoscopic splenectomy is particularly difficult for spleens greater than 20 cm in length or after radiation to the spleen and splenomegaly. limited retraction of the spleen.No. less blood loss.18 Our results of a 12 per cent recurrence of ITP correspond favorably with other series as does the lack of missed accessory spleens by nuclear imaging. omentum. We recommend a hand-assist technique for spleens >23 cm in length or >19 cm in diameter. 51 tion of the operation in 80 to 100 per cent of patients. 1 LAPAROSCOPIC SPLENECTOMY и Walsh et al.25–27 The incidence of post-splenectomy sepsis has not been higher in those having laparoscopic splenectomy. ITP is well suited for laparoscopic splenectomy and is the most frequent indication for operation. In our experience pancreatic injury is the most frequent complication and typically .

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