Diabetes and stem cell transplants

A stem cell transplant can cause severe side effects. This can affect diabetes by causing your blood sugar to go up or down.

High-dose treatments and stem cell transplants

Some types of cancer are treated using a transplant of stem cells. Stem cells are blood cells at the earliest stage of development.

Treatment involves having high doses of chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy. It will often include treatment with steroids. High-dose treatment is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells and increase the chances of curing the cancer. After the treatment, your own stem cells or stem cells from someone else (a donor) will be given back through a drip (infusion). These stem cells then grow and develop in the bone marrow to produce normal blood cells.

You will usually go into hospital for a few weeks while you recover from the high-dose treatment.

How high-dose treatment can affect your diabetes

High-dose treatment can cause severe side effects. These depend on the type of treatment you have.

Your blood sugar level may go up or down because of the side effects of chemotherapy. And it may rise if you are taking steroids.

You may need help managing your diabetes while you are recovering from high-dose treatment. You will need to check your blood sugars more often. And you will probably need to start taking medicines or change the medicines you take. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information.

About our information

This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer.

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our diabetes and cancer treatment information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at informationproductionteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Joint British Diabetes Societies for inpatient care (JBDS-IP). The management of glycaemic control in people with cancer. 2023.

    Joharatnam-Hogan, N; Chambers, P; Dhatariya, K; and Board, R. The Joint BritishDiabetes Society for Inpatient Care (JBDS), UK Chemotherapy Board (UKCB). A guideline for the outpatient management of glycaemic control in people with cancer. Diabetes Medicine. 2022; 39.1-11. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/dme.14636 [accessed Oct 2022].

    Shahid, R.; Shahid, A.; Duc, L; and Sunil, Y. Diabetes and Cancer, Risks, Challenges, Management and Outcomes. MDPI. 2021;13:1-21. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8616213 [accessed Oct 2022].

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2023
Next review: 01 September 2026
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