Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter
 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Stem cell transplants for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Stem cells are very early blood cells. Red cells, white cells and platelets can all develop from them. They are normally found in the bone marrow, but doctors have ways of getting them into the bloodstream so they can be collected more easily.

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 your bone marrow and any remaining NHL cells. This means you cannot make any new blood cells. So doctors take some stem cells from your blood before you have your chemotherapy and freeze them. 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.

Collecting the stem cells

Collecting the stem cells takes 3 or 4 hours each time. 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.

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.

 

 

About stem cells

Stem cells are very early blood cells. Red cells, white cells and platelets can all develop from them. They are normally found in the bone marrow, but some drugs make some stem cells move into the bloodstream so they can be collected more easily.

 

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 lymphoma, or controlling it for a longer time, than standard chemotherapy.

The bone marrow is the spongy substance inside your bones. Bone marrow makes stem cells which develop into blood cells. High doses of chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy kill off your bone marrow cells and any remaining NHL cells. This means you cannot make any new blood cells. So doctors take some stem cells from you before you have this high dose chemotherapy, and freeze them. This is called a stem cell collection or stem cell harvest.

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.

 

How stem cell and bone marrow transplants are different

Stem cell transplants use stem cells collected from the blood. Bone marrow transplants use bone marrow collected from the bone. Using stem cells means

  • You don't need an anaesthetic to collect the cells
  • Your blood counts may recover more quickly after the chemotherapy

These days most people have stem cell transplants. But you might have a bone marrow transplant if it is hard to collect enough stem cells.

 

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
 

What about 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.

There is more information about stem cell transplants in the transplants section.

 

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 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.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 16 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 29 October 2012