What are allogeneic stem cell transplants?

A transplant using stem cells (early blood cells) from another person (a donor) is called a donor stem cell transplant. The medical term for this is an allogeneic transplant. It’s also sometimes called an allograft or a bone marrow transplant. We use the term ‘donor stem cell transplant’.

A donor stem cell transplant can be used to treat cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma and leukaemia. It is also sometimes used to treat some other diseases of the bone marrow or immune system.

Donor stem cell transplants can be carried out in adults and children. This information is mainly for adults who are having a donor stem cell transplant.

If you have a child who is going to have a donor stem cell transplant, we hope it helps you understand the different stages of treatment. You may find that the approach used by specialist children’s units is different from that used in adult units. The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) has information about transplants in children.

Some transplants use a person’s own stem cells. This is called an autologous stem cell transplant, or high-dose treatment with stem cell support. We have separate information about autologous stem cell transplants.

Stages of a donor donor stem cell (allogeneic) transplant

The aim of a donor stem cell transplant is to replace your bone marrow and immune system with that of a donor’s. This will give you a new, healthy bone marrow, and an immune system that can fight any remaining cancer cells.

A donor stem cell transplant is a very specialised and complicated treatment. But it can be broken down into stages.

Stages of a donor stem cell transplant
Stages of a donor stem cell transplant

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If a donor stem cell transplant is advised for you, your hospital team will explain the risks and benefits. If you agree to have a transplant, they can look for a donor and start to plan and prepare (Stage 1).

You will have high doses of chemotherapy, and possibly radiotherapy, before the transplant (Stage 2). This is called conditioning treatment. At the same time, your donor’s stem cells will be collected (Stage 3). When you’re ready to have your transplant (Stage 4), you’ll be given the cells through a drip (infusion). The cells will find their way to your bone marrow. They will then settle into place (engraft) and start to make new blood cells (Stage 5).

You’ll need lots of medical and nursing support while the stem cells engraft. When your blood cells have recovered and you’re well enough, you can go home (Stage 6). The hospital staff will explain how you can look after yourself and you’ll have regular follow-up appointments.

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You may experience difficult feelings after your treatment. Talking to those close to you can help.