Surgery for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Surgery is not often used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). But doctors often do a surgical biopsy to diagnose and classify NHL. They may also use surgery to lessen symptoms of NHL (called palliative surgery).

Surgery to remove a tumour

In rare cases, you may have surgery to remove all of a tumour. This may be done if the NHL started and stayed in just the spleen or an organ outside the lymphatic system (such as the stomach, the small intestine, the thyroid or a testicle). Doctors usually prefer to use radiation therapy instead of surgery to treat NHL that is only in one area.


A splenectomy is surgery to remove the spleen. Doctors may do a splenectomy to ease discomfort and pain when a spleen that is larger than normal is pressing on other organs. It is usually done if radiation therapy does not make the large spleen smaller.

The surgeon will do a splenectomy while you are under general anesthetic. The surgeon makes a cut (incision) in the abdomen to reach the spleen. Sometimes the surgeon will make a smaller cut and use a laparoscope (called laparoscopic surgery) to remove the spleen. It is on the upper-left side of the abdomen. It is attached to the stomach, left kidney and colon (the longest part of the large intestine).

Most people completely recover 4–6 weeks after a splenectomy. Recovery time may be shorter after laparoscopic surgery.

Your healthcare team should give you some immunizations before surgery to remove the spleen.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for NHL, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects and other people have few.

Side effects can develop any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after surgery. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after surgery. Most side effects will go away on their own or can be treated, but some may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of surgery will depend mainly on the type and site of surgery and your overall health. Tell your healthcare team if you have side effects you think might be from surgery. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Questions to ask about surgery

Find out more about surgery and side effects of surgery. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about surgery.

Expert review and references