Stem cell transplants to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
Stem cell transplant treatment may be offered to younger people who have CLL that hasn’t responded to standard chemotherapy, or who have a type of CLL that could develop quickly.
It’s an intensive treatment, and side effects can be severe. However, it may result in a long period of remission and some people who have a transplant may even be cured.
Stem cells are found inside our bone marrow. They make all the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the blood. When a stem cell transplant is planned, stem cells are collected from the bloodstream or bone marrow and stored until they are needed.
There are two types of transplant. One uses your own stem cells (called autologous transplant, or high-dose treatment with stem cell support). The other uses stem cells from a donor (allogeneic or donor stem cell transplant).
Allogeneic transplant is the transplant most commonly used for CLL.
Allogeneic (donor) transplants
This uses matched stem cells from a brother or sister who is genetically similar to you, or stem cells from someone unknown to you (volunteer unrelated donor) who is a genetic match.
Before you’re given donor stem cells, you’ll have high-dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy too. This destroys any remaining cancer cells and prepares your immune system for the donor stem cells.
Some types of allogeneic transplant use less chemotherapy and radiotherapy than an autologous transplant, and are known as ‘reduced intensity’ or mini-transplants.