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Initial experience with laparoscopic splenectomy for immune thrombocytopenic purpura.

Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is an immune-mediated disease characterised by thrombocytopenia, the degree of which determines the increased risk of bleeding. [1] It can be primary (idiopathic) or secondary. Secondary ITP can occur with systemic lupus erythematosus, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, lymphoma, HIV infection and a variety of other disorders. Initial treatment is usually with corticosteroids, splenectomy being reserved for treatment failures. [2]

Laparoscopic splenectomy was first performed in 1991 and has since become the preferred method of splenectomy for refractory ITP. [3] Laparoscopic splenectomy compares favourably with open splenectomy with regard to postoperative pain, length of hospital stay and return to normal daily activity. [4-6]

We present our experience with the introduction of laparoscopic splenectomy at a referral institution to determine its safety and outcomes in ITP.


Data were collected retrospectively from February 2007 to June 2008 and prospectively from June 2008 to January 2009. All patients were referred for splenectomy by our haematology department following suboptimal response to steroids. Patients were given pneumococcal vaccine 2 weeks before surgery. Information collected included demographic data, pre-operative and postoperative platelet counts, preparation prior to surgery, intra-operative and postoperative course, and complications. Based on the consensus reached by the International Working Group on ITP in Vicenza, Italy, in October 2007, [1] we defined a platelet count that failed to double and remained under 100 x [10.sup.9]/l as failure to respond, doubling of the platelet count, which nevertheless remained under 100 x [10.sup.9]/l, as partial response, and a platelet count over 100 x [10.sup.9]/l, resolution of clinical symptoms and no further need for steroid therapy as complete response.

The surgery was performed at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, by two surgeons with extensive experience in laparoscopic cholecystectomy and the use of energy devices for dissection and vessel sealing. Patients were positioned either supine with a slight right lateral tilt or in the right lateral position. Initial entry was achieved under direct vision using the open Hasson technique or an optical port. We used 4 ports, positioned as shown in Fig. 1. Upon entering the abdomen, any adhesions in the left upper quadrant were taken down. The short gastric vessels were divided using either an ultrasonic dissector or a vessel-sealing device. The splenic artery was identified and divided either between clips or using the vessel-sealing device. The spleen was mobilised fully, after which the hilum was divided using the vessel-sealing device. The spleen was inserted into an Endobag, broken up using swab-holding forceps, and removed from the abdomen through the supra-umbilical incision. The sheath and the skin were closed using absorbable sutures. Postoperatively, patients were allowed to eat a normal meal once fully awake and discharged the next day if they were well. Platelet counts were checked at each follow-up visit. The postoperative platelet counts recorded were from the last follow-up visit, a mean of 7 months after the surgery.


The data on 20 patients were collected retrospectively for 12 patients and prospectively for 8, and are summarised in Table 1. The majority were females in their late twenties. Two patients required conversion to an open procedure because of hilar bleeding that was difficult to control laparoscopically. This occurred early in the series. Blood loss was negligible and the mean splenic weight was 20 g above the upper limit of normal.

The mean pre-operative and postoperative platelet counts were 34 x [10.sup.9]/l and 287 x [10.sup.9]/l, respectively. Their distribution is shown in Fig. 2. Eighteen patients had a complete response, 1 did not respond, and 1 had a partial response. Mean hospital stay was 4 days (range 3-7 days) and mean follow-up was 7 months (range 1-19 months). There were no deaths and no major complications. One patient complained of left-sided chest pain; a chest radiograph and electrocardiogram were normal, and the pain resolved spontaneously after 1 week.


The decision to treat ITP is based on the platelet count and the degree of bleeding. Generally treatment is commenced when the platelet count falls below 30 x [10.sup.9]/l. Corticosteroids are the backbone of initial treatment and are initially effective in 50-80% of cases. However, when the dose of steroids is reduced or when treatment is stopped, remission is sustained in only 10-30% of cases. Splenectomy is the traditional second-line treatment for patients who do not respond to steroids or relapse after their withdrawal. Complete or partial remission occurs in more than two-thirds of patients who undergo splenectomy, but the relapse rate is 15-25%. [2]

This study shows that laparoscopic splenectomy can be performed safely and effectively in appropriately selected patients with ITP.

The two surgeons performing the laparoscopic splenectomies had considerable experience with routine laparoscopic operations and open splenectomy prior to embarking on the introduction of the procedure. That their skill set was adequate to develop the performance of laparoscopic splenectomy safely is attested to by their low conversion rate (10%), which is lower than the 33% reported for the first 15 patients in one the earliest studies implementing the technique. These authors went on to show a 9% conversion rate in their subsequent 35 patients. [7] Other studies addressing the learning curve for laparoscopic splenectomy found that 15-25 cases [8-11] are required to become proficient. Compared with both laparoscopic and open splenectomy series, blood loss in our hands was minimal. [5,7]

Table 2 lists the cohort series reporting on laparoscopic splenectomy for ITP. A marked heterogeneity is evident. Eight of the studies report on less than 50 cases, and only 1 reports on more than 100. Six of the studies had no conversions, while 2 were at the other extreme with 20% requiring open surgery. It appears that once the learning curve has been overcome, a rate of less than 5% should be the norm. There is marked variability in operating time, with the largest series of over 200 patients having an average time of over 2 hours. Only 4 studies had an operating time of less than our mean of 100 minutes. The follow-up period in our study was short, and the higher recurrence rates generally occurring in series with longer follow-up are a better reflection of the duration of the operation's efficacy. The morbidity data are generally poorly defined, but as in our series laparoscopic splenectomy is generally free from major complications.

In summary, we believe this study has shown that laparoscopic splenectomy can be introduced safely and effectively by surgeons who have had good exposure to routine laparoscopic operations. It should be considered the preferred option for splenectomy for ITP.


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[9.] Peters M, Camacho D, Ojeda H, et al. Defining the learning curve for laparoscopic splenectomy for immune thrombocytopenic purpura. Am J Surg 2004;188 (5):522-525. []

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[16.] Szold A, Schwartz J, Abu-Abeid S, et al. Laparoscopic splenectomies for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura: Experience of sixty cases. Am J Hematol 2000;63(1):7-10. [<7::AID-AJH2>3.0.CO;2-1]

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[24.] Khan L, Nixon S. Laparoscopic splenectomy is a better treatment for adult ITP than steroids--it should be used earlier in patient management: Conclusions of a ten-year follow-up study. Surgeon 2007;5(1):3-4,6-8. [ S1479-666X(07)80105-3]

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L Ferndale, (1) FCS (SA); M Naidoo, (1) FCS (SA); S H Bhaila, (1) MB ChB, FRCS (Glasg); S R Thomson, (2) ChM, FRCS (Eng & Edin); F Bassa, (3) FC Path (SA) (Haem), MMed

(1) Department of Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu- Natal, Durban, South Africa

(2) Division of Gastroenterology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

(3) Department of Haematology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu- Natal, Durban, South Africa

Corresponding author: L Ferndale (

Table 1. Summary of results of laparoscopic splenectomy
for immune thrombocytopenic purpura

Variable                         N    Mean   Range

Age (years)                      20   29     15-58
Pre-operative platelet count     20   34     1-78
Postoperative platelet count     20   287    54-550
Operating time (minutes)         20   100    30-170
Blood loss (ml)                  12   106    50-200
Splenic weight in prospective    12   119    53-232
  group (g)
Hospital stay (days)             20   4      3-7
Follow-up period (months)        20   7      1-19

Table 2. Case series of laparoscopic splenectomy for immune
thrombocytopenic purpura

Series                 Year   N     Operation   Hospital   Follow-up
                                    time        stay       (months)
                                    (minutes)   (days)

Lee et al.m            1997   15    200         6          12
Meyer et al. [13]      1998   16    123         4.6        12
Chung et al. [14]      1999   40    128         7          29
Stanton [15]           1999   30    150         2.3        30
Szold et al. [16]      2000   60    78          2.3        16
Schwartz et al. [17]   2001   8     70          2.5        32
Bresler et al. [18]    2002   27    90          7          28
Delaitre et al. [19]   2002   209   144         6.1        16
Keidar et al. [20]     2003   12    80          5.5        36
Pace et al. [21]       2003   52    160         2          51
Wu et al. [22]         2004   67    150         3.2        23
Berends et al. [23]    2004   50    159         5.5        41
Khan and Nixon [24]    2007   40    NS          2.9        60
Kang et al. [25]       2007   59    125         NS         54
Prasad et al. [26]     2009   29    139         2          19
Current series         2011   20    100         4          7

Series                 Recurrence/   Conversion   Morbidity
                       non-          rate (%)     (%)

Lee et al.m            7             0            20
Meyer et al. [13]      14            0            0
Chung et al. [14]      10            0            7.5
Stanton [15]           11            7            13.3
Szold et al. [16]      14            0            5
Schwartz et al. [17]   13            0            12.5
Bresler et al. [18]    0             3            11
Delaitre et al. [19]   8             17           10.5
Keidar et al. [20]     25            0            33
Pace et al. [21]       13            3.8          5.7
Wu et al. [22]         26            0            5
Berends et al. [23]    14            22           7
Khan and Nixon [24]    13            4            3.4
Kang et al. [25]       11            5            10.9
Prasad et al. [26]     14            2            24
Current series         5             10           5
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:GENERAL SURGERY
Author:Ferndale, L.; Naidoo, M.; Bhaila, S.H.; Thomson, S.R.; Bassa, F.
Publication:South African Journal of Surgery
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:May 1, 2013
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