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Bone marrow transplants for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Men and women discussing non Hodgkin's lymphoma

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

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Bone marrow transplants for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Bone marrow transplants are similar to stem cell transplants. They are a way of giving very high dose chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy, to try to cure some types of cancer. These days more people have stem cell transplants. But you might have a bone marrow transplant if collecting stem cells is difficult.

The bone marrow is the spongy substance inside your bones which makes all your blood cells. High doses of chemotherapy drugs kill off your bone marrow and any remaining NHL cells. This means you cannot make any blood cells. So doctors or specialist nurses can take out some of your bone marrow before you have the chemotherapy and freeze it. This is called a bone marrow harvest.

After you have had the chemotherapy, you have your bone marrow back through a drip. Then you can make the blood cells you need again. This is called an autologous bone marrow transplant. You may have bone marrow donated by another person (usually a brother or sister). This is called an allogeneic transplant.

Having a bone marrow harvest

To have marrow taken, you have a general anaesthetic. The doctor puts a needle through the skin into your hip bone. They suck out the marrow through the needle into a syringe. Occasionally, the doctor uses the breast bone as well. When you wake up you will probably feel very sore and bruised. Your doctor will give you some painkillers to take.
 

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What a bone marrow transplant is

Bone marrow transplants are similar to stem cell transplants. They are a way of giving very high dose chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy, to try to cure some types of cancer. Because higher doses of treatment can be given, there may be more chance of curing a lymphoma.

The bone marrow is the spongy substance inside your bones which makes all your blood cells. High doses of chemotherapy drugs kill off your bone marrow and any remaining NHL cells. This means you cannot make any blood cells. So doctors can take out some of your bone marrow before you have the high dose chemotherapy, and freeze it. Collecting the bone marrow is called a bone marrow harvest.

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

These days more people have stem cell transplants than bone marrow transplants. Using stem cells means you don't need an anaesthetic to collect the cells. And your blood counts may recover more quickly after the high dose chemotherapy. But you might have a bone marrow transplant if collecting stem cells is difficult.

You may have bone marrow donated by another person (usually a brother or sister) if their bone marrow matches yours. A transplant of bone marrow from another person is called an allogeneic transplant. This type of transplant is sometimes done if your lymphoma comes back after a transplant using your own cells or marrow. But allogeneic transplants have more side effects and complications, and this treatment is not suitable for everyone.

 

Why you may have a bone marrow transplant

Your doctor may suggest a bone marrow 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
 

Collecting your bone marrow

Whether you are the patient or a bone marrow donor you have the same procedure. Collecting the bone marrow is called a bone marrow harvest.

To have marrow taken, you have a general anaesthetic. To remove the marrow, the doctor puts a needle through the skin into your hip bone (pelvis). They suck out the bone marrow through the needle into a syringe. To get enough marrow, the doctor usually has to put the needle into several different parts of the pelvis. Occasionally, the doctor uses the breast bone (sternum) as well. About two pints of bone marrow are removed and frozen.

When you wake up, you will have up to about six puncture sites covered with plasters. You will probably feel very sore and bruised. The soreness can last for up to a week. Your doctor will give you some pain killers to take.

You usually have to stay in hospital overnight after a bone marrow harvest. This is to make sure you have recovered from the anaesthetic. You may also need a blood transfusion afterwards.

 

More information about transplants

In our cancer treatment section there is detailed information about bone marrow and stem cell transplants including

If you would like more information about anything to do with bone marrow and stem cell transplants, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help. Or you can contact one of the organisations in the non Hodgkin lymphoma organisations section. They often have free factsheets and booklets which 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: 29 October 2012