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Stem cell transplants for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Men and women discussing non Hodgkin's lymphoma

This page tells you about stem cell transplants for non Hodgkin lymphoma. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

What is a stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplant is a way of allowing you to have very high doses of chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy. High doses of chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy kill off the stem cells in your bone marrow as well as any remaining NHL cells. Without stem cells you can't make any new red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets

So you have some stem cells taken from your blood before you have your chemotherapy and the cells are frozen. After you have had the chemotherapy, you have your stored stem cells back through a drip. Then you can make the blood cells you need again. This is called an autologous stem cell transplant.

Transplant using donor stem cells

It is sometimes possible to use stem cells donated by a brother or sister. This is called an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Your brother or sister has to have a blood test first to make sure their bone marrow is a match with yours. Some people have stem cells from someone who is not related, but has matching bone marrow (a matched, unrelated donor (MUD) transplant). But allogeneic transplants have more side effects and complications, and this treatment is not suitable for everyone.

Collecting the stem cells

Collecting the stem cells takes 3 or 4 hours each time. You have a drip into each of your arms. Each drip is attached to a machine. Your blood passes out of one drip, through the machine and back into your body through the other drip. The machine filters the stem cells out of your blood.

The stem cells are frozen until you are ready to have them back. This will be after all your high dose chemotherapy is finished.
 

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

 

 

What a stem cell transplant is

Stem cell transplant is a way of allowing you to have very high doses of chemotherapy such as the BEAM combination, sometimes with radiotherapy. It aims to try to cure some types of cancer. High dose treatment with a stem cell transplant can give a better chance of curing some types of NHL, or controlling it for a longer time, than standard chemotherapy.

Stem cells are contained in the bone marrow, which is the spongy substance inside your bones. Stem cells develop into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. High doses of chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy kill off any remaining NHL cells but they also damage your bone marrow, including the stem cells. This means you can't make any new blood cells. So before you have high dose chemotherapy, you have stem cells taken from your blood. This is called a stem cell collection or stem cell harvest. The cells are frozen and stored.

After you have had the high dose chemotherapy, you have your stored stem cells back through a drip (transfusion). Then you can make the blood cells you need again. This is called an autologous stem cell transplant.

 

Why you may have a stem cell transplant

Your doctor may suggest a stem cell transplant if

  • Your lymphoma is in remission but is likely to come back
  • Your lymphoma is in a second remission
  • Your lymphoma has not responded to other treatment
 

Transplants using donor stem cells

It is possible to have stem cells donated by a brother or sister. A transplant using donated stem cells is called an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Your brother or sister has to have a blood test first to make sure their bone marrow is a match with yours.

Sometimes it is possible to have stem cells from someone who is not related to you, but who has matching bone marrow. It is known as a matched, unrelated donor (MUD) transplant. This type of transplant is sometimes done if your lymphoma comes back after a transplant using your own stem cells. But allogeneic transplants have more side effects and complications, and this treatment is not suitable for everyone.

 

Collecting stem cells

Your stem cells Picture showing a patient on the stem cell separatormay be collected after you have had a course of chemotherapy, because some of the stem cells move out of the bone marrow and into the blood at this time.

You often need to have cells collected for 2, or sometimes 3, days in a row to get enough. Collecting the stem cells takes 3 or 4 hours each time. You lie down on a couch. A drip is put into each of your arms and attached to a machine. Your blood passes out of one drip, through the machine and back into your body through the other drip. The machine filters the stem cells out of your blood.

If you don't have enough stem cells, you may need to have injections of a type of drug called G-CSF. If stem cells are being collected from a donor, your donor will need to have G-CSF. It makes stem cells spill out from the bone marrow and into the blood. You have the injections for up to 10 days. You have blood tests to check the level of stem cells in your bloodstream. When there are enough, your stem cells are collected.

The stem cells are frozen until you are ready to have them back. This will be after all your high dose chemotherapy is finished.

 

More information about stem cell transplants

On this website we have detailed information about bone marrow and stem cell transplants including

We have information about what happens after your stem cell transplant.

You can also find out about life after a stem cell transplant

If you would like more information about anything to do with stem cell transplants, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Or you can contact one of the organisations in the non Hodgkin lymphoma organisations section. They often have free factsheets and booklets as well as other resources that they can send to you.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 15 September 2014