Background: Splenectomy, and in some cases pancreatico splenectomy, has been advocated by surgeons in an effort to improve clearance of metastatic nodes to splenic hilum (node 10) and splenic artery (node 11). Although splenectomy has known effects on increasing morbidity and even mortality after a variety of surgical maneuvers including gastrectomy, the longterm effect on survival is controversial. The purpose of this study is to review and analyze the effect of splenectomy on survival in patients having curative gastrectomy for stomach cancer.
Methods: We reviewed the role of splenectomy in patients having curative gastrectomy in a data base of stomach cancer patients that had been collected in 1987 as part of an American College of Surgeons Patterns of Care Study. This analysis had involved 18,344 patients, of whom 11,252 were first diagnosed in 1982 as part of a longterm study, and 7,092 were first diagnosed in 1987 as part of a shortterm study. From the two data collection periods information was available on 12,439 patients who received cancer directed abdominal surgery; 21.2% of these patients received a splenectomy. Among the 3,477 patients reported as having a curative gastrectomy (pathologically clear margins), 26.2% received a splenectomy.
Results: The operative mortality was 9.8% with splenectomy and 8.6% without splenectomy. In patients having a curative gastrectomy, the 5-year observed survival rate was 20.9% in patients having splenectomy versus 31% in patients who did not receive splenectomy (p < 0.0001). Examination of differences in survival by stage of diagnosis showed significantly reduced survival outcomes among patients with stage II and III, but not for those diagnosed with stage I or IV disease. The pattern of recurrence was moderately different with a larger proportion of patients having distant metastases among the group of patients who had undergone splenectomy compared with the patients who had not, 29% and 15.5%, respectively. Whether these differences are inherent in the splenectomy or in the associated cofactors was not determined in this study.
Conclusions: The data suggest elective splenectomy should generally be avoided in patients with stage II and III gastric cancer. In patients with resectable proximal advanced (stage IV) cancer or who have extension to spleen and pancreas or macroscopic nodal metastases to splenic hilum, splenectomy might be necessary to facilitate complete removal of the tumor in an effort to achieve longterm tumor control. The importance of surgical judgment is emphasized as the major deciding factor in determining the need for splenectomy in the individual cancer patient.