Bone marrow and stem cell transplant for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) | Cancer Research UK
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Bone marrow and stem cell transplant for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

Men and women discussing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

This page is about bone marrow and stem cell transplants for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Bone marrow and stem cell transplant for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

A very small number of people might have intensive treatment with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant for CLL, however this is not very common.  

The aim of a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant is to keep the CLL under control for as long as possible. To kill the leukaemia cells, you have higher doses of chemotherapy. You may also have radiotherapy to your whole body (TBI). However using radiotherapy as well is much rarer these days. Both of these treatments destroy the leukaemia cells, but also destroy your bone marrow cells. So after the intensive treatment, you have donor bone marrow or stem cells through a drip. The stem cells move into your bone marrow and start to make new blood cells again.

This treatment is called a transplant because the donor's bone marrow or stem cells are collected and then transplanted into you. Doctors don't use this type of treatment very often for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. 

Mini transplants

Mini transplants don't use quite such intensive chemotherapy treatment. So your bone marrow is not destroyed. The chemotherapy still suppresses your immune system and allows donor blood cells to grow.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating CLL section.

 

What a transplant is

You have a transplant of bone marrow or stem cells after intensive treatment with high dose chemotherapy. You might also have radiotherapy to your whole body (TBI) but this is less common. Both the chemotherapy and radiotherapy destroy the leukaemia cells but also destroy your bone marrow cells. The bone marrow is the spongy substance inside your bones. It contains cells called stem cells, which make all your blood cells.

After the intensive treatment your bone marrow cells need to be replaced. You have your donor cells through a drip (intravenous infusion). Having someone else's bone marrow or stem cells is called a donor or allogeneic transplant. The donor stem cells move into your bone marrow and start to make new blood cells again. It can take a few days or weeks for the stem cells to start to make enough blood cells.

The aim of this intensive treatment is to try to cure your chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, or control it for longer than is possible with other types of treatment. Doctors call this treatment a transplant because bone marrow or stem cells are removed from a donor and given to you through a drip. So they are transplanted into you. If you are having a bone marrow transplant your donor will have surgery to remove their bone marrow.

 

When transplants are used for CLL

Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are not commonly used for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. The aim of the treatment is to keep the CLL under control for as long as possible. 

Your doctor is most likely to suggest that you have a transplant if you are young enough and well enough to tolerate the intensive treatment. You are most likely to have a transplant if your leukaemia has come back quite quickly after your initial treatment. As transplants are not routine treatment, we have not gone into great detail here. There is more information about bone marrow and stem cell transplants in the cancer treatment section.

 

Mini transplants and transplant timing

Doctors and researchers have been looking into mini transplant or reduced intensity conditioning (RIC) for CLL. Mini transplants don't use quite such intensive chemotherapy treatment. So your bone marrow is not destroyed. But the chemotherapy treatment used suppresses your immune system and allows donor blood cells to grow. There is more about mini transplant in the CLL research page.

 

More information about transplants

You can find detailed information about bone marrow and stem cell transplants in our cancer treatment section. You can find out about current research into CLL on the CLL research page or by looking at our clinical trials database.

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Updated: 19 March 2015