Stem cell transplants for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
This is a less common treatment for NHL. It’s sometimes used to treat people who have NHL that has come back after other treatment.
Stem cell transplants may also be suggested for types of NHL that don’t respond as well to standard chemotherapy treatment as other types. It’s an intensive treatment that’s usually only suitable for people who are fit enough to cope with the side effects. Your doctor will discuss with you whether or not a stem cell transplant is necessary, and possible, in your case.
High-dose treatment with stem cell support (autologous stem cell transplant)
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The main benefit of this treatment is that it allows you to have much higher doses of chemotherapy to treat the lymphoma.
Before high-dose treatment, you will have chemotherapy to put the lymphoma into remission. After this, stem cells (early blood cells from which other cells develop) are collected from your body. The stem cells are frozen and kept in storage until you have high-dose treatment.
As well as destroying lymphoma cells, high doses of chemotherapy destroy the bone marrow, where new blood cells are made. After you have the high-dose chemotherapy, you’ll be given back the stem cells so that your bone marrow can recover.
The stem cells are given into your blood through a drip and make their way to your bone marrow. After a few weeks your bone marrow begins to make blood cells again.
While you’re waiting for your bone marrow to recover, you’ll be very prone to infection and so will need to stay in hospital.
Donor (allogeneic) stem cell transplant
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Some people may be given stem cells from another person (a donor). This is called a donor stem cell transplant or allogeneic transplant. The donor stem cells help your bone marrow recover from chemotherapy, and give you a new immune system that may be better at fighting the lymphoma.
Stem cell transplants are complicated treatments and carry some risk. Because of this they are carried out in specialist hospitals. This means you may have to be treated in a hospital some distance from your home.
Research is ongoing to discover how best to use stem cell transplants to treat NHL, so these treatments may be given as part of a cancer research trial.
We have more information about high-dose treatment with stem cell support and donor stem cell transplants in our section on cancer treatments which explains them in more detail.
This is what Gerald told us after he watched David's story about having high-dose treatment with stem cell support. Everyone's experiences are different, but you might find it helpful to watch this video too.