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Splenectomy for Immune Thrombocytopenia: Down but not out

Shruti Chaturvedi, Donald M/ Arnold and Keith R. McCrae

Abstract

Splenectomy is an effective therapy for steroid-refractory or dependent immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). With the advent of medical alternatives such as rituximab and thrombopoietin receptor antagonists (TPO-RA), the use of splenectomy has declined and is generally reserved for patients that fail multiple medical therapies. Splenectomy removes the primary site of platelet clearance and autoantibody production, and offers the highest rate of durable response (50-70%) compared to other ITP therapies. However, there are no reliable predictors of splenectomy response, and long-term risks of infection and cardiovascular complications must be considered. Since the long-term efficacy of different second-line medical therapies for ITP have not been directly compared, treatment decisions must be made without supportive evidence. Splenectomy continues to be a reasonable treatment option for many patients, including those with an active lifestyle who desire freedom from medication and monitoring, and patients with fulminant ITP that does not respond well to medical therapy. We try to avoid splenectomy within the first 12 months after ITP diagnosis for most patients to allow for spontaneous or therapy-induced remissions, particularly in older patients who have increased surgical morbidity and lower rates of response, and in young children. Treatment decisions must be individualized based on patients’ comorbidities, lifestyles and preferences. Future research should focus on comparing long-term outcomes of patients treated with different second line therapies, and on developing personalized medicine approaches to identify subsets of patients most likely to respond to splenectomy or other therapeutic approaches.

  • Submitted September 7, 2017.
  • Accepted November 29, 2017.