Spleen Cancer

What Is Spleen Cancer?

Spleen cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells reproduce rapidly and begin interfering with the organ’s normal operation. Located behind the rib cage, the spleen is part of the body’s lymphatic system. Spleen cancer is unusual, in that it only rarely develops within the organ itself. The great majority of cases occur when the disease spreads to the spleen from another part of the body. The invading cancers are typically either lymphomas, which originate somewhere else in the lymphatic system, or leukemias, which are blood cancers of the circulatory system.

Left unchecked, spleen cancer can pose a serious health threat. The outlook of someone with this disease will depend on a variety of factors, including age, overall health condition, the type of cancer involved, its stage of development, and whether the cancer originated in the spleen or invaded the organ from another location. If you or a loved one is exhibiting spleen-cancer symptoms, the oncologists and other caring professionals at Baptist Health can help.

What Are Spleen Cancer Symptoms?

An individual with spleen cancer may experience:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Reduced infection resistance
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Joint and bone pain
  • Anemia and fatigue
  • Frequent bruising
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Chest pressure and chronic coughing.

On rare occasions, spleen cancer can develop into a medical emergency, either from infection severity or organ rupture. Anyone experiencing rapid heart rate, night sweats, bluing lips and fingertips, and disorientation, should call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency medical facility.

What Causes Spleen Cancer?

Spleen cancers are typically secondary, meaning that they originate elsewhere and then spread to the spleen. The most common causes of spleen cancer are lymphomas and leukemias. On occasion, other cancers, such as breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, liver, or colon, are the source of the malignancy.

There is a type of cancer that develops in the spleen. The medical term for it is splenic marginal zone lymphoma – SMZL for short. It is a rare cancer, comprising only about two percent of all lymphomas.

Risk factors for lymphoma include old age, being male, immune-system deficiencies, and viral infections such as Epstein-Barr. Leukemia risk factors are tobacco use, hazardous chemical exposure, past cancers treatments, and a family history of the disease.

How Is Spleen Cancer Diagnosed?

Spleen cancer is diagnosed in the following manner:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will look you over for evidence of a cancerous growth. He or she will also ask questions about your medical history and possible risk factors.
  • Blood test: The blood test will measure a variety of factors present in the blood, including red cells, white cells, platelets, hemoglobin, and other compositional elements. Amounts that are outside of normal parameters are often signals of an underlying medical issue. 
  • Bone-marrow biopsy: Your physician will collect a sample of bone marrow, typically from the back of your hip bone. This sample will be analyzed for evidence of lymphoma and leukemia.
  • Medical imaging: CT scans, PET scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can aid in the diagnosis of spleen cancer.
  • Splenectomy: To confirm the presence of cancer, your physician may arrange for you to undergo a surgical procedure called a splenectomy. This involves removing part or all of the spleen. A tissue sample will be sent to a medical lab for analysis. You will receive test results in a few days to a couple of weeks.

If you’ve developed spleen cancer, your physician or oncologist will assess its stage of development. He or she will determine the size and disposition of your tumors and the overall prevalence of cancer within your body. Cancer stages are generally rated from 0 to 4, with stage 4 being the most advanced and therefore serious version of the disease.

How Is Spleen Cancer Treated?

Treatment for spleen cancer depends on a number of factors, including the specific disease involved, your age, the cancer’s stage of development, and where it is present in the body:

  • Surgery: Splenectomies are as much a treatment method as they are a diagnostic tool.
  • Radiation therapy: Oncologists use radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in a specific area, most commonly with lymphoma.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is an effective means of killing cancer cells that have spread from their place of origin.
  • Stem-cell transplantation: Radiation and chemotherapy destroy good cells as well as bad ones. This can be counteracted by injecting the patient with stem cells, often acquired from a cancer-free donor. These stem cells will encourage the reproduction of healthy new blood cells. 
  • Biological or immunotherapies: These are newer methods of fighting cancer, that enlist the body’s own immune system to combat cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted-therapy drugs exploit specific mutations associated with some cancer cells to stop their growth, reproduction, and spread. In this way they operate differently than chemotherapy drugs, by bottling up cancer rather than simply destroying it. Targeted-therapy drugs are sometimes utilized along with chemotherapy.
  • Active surveillance: Active surveillance is taking a wait-and-see approach to the treatment of spleen cancer. Your condition is monitored but untreated, unless or until a change in symptoms or test results makes clear the best means of addressing your cancer.

Treatment will also involve antibiotics, to maintain patient health while the immune system is depleted, and various medications for suppressing the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatments.

Treatment success depends on a number of factors, including how early or how late the cancer was diagnosed. In general, the earlier the detection, the greater the chance of beating the disease. Individuals who are treated for spleen cancer require monitoring for a possible recurrence.

How Is Spleen Cancer Prevented?

Avoiding spleen cancer is largely about avoiding the types of cancers that spread to the spleen from elsewhere in the body. One of these is non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hepatitis C has been linked to its development, making it a good candidate for preventive health measures. Hepatitis C can be transmitted via unprotected sex, shared syringes, or the use of unhygienic needles for piercings or tattoos.

Excessive weight gain has also been tied to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A healthy diet and exercise reduces this possibility, and confers many other benefits as well.

Learn More About Spleen Cancer from Baptist Health

Spleen cancer is potentially fatal, especially if diagnosed in a later stage of development. The oncologists and other medical experts at Baptist Health are part of your frontline defense against spleen cancer.

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