What are BEAM and mini-BEAM?

BEAM and mini-BEAM are types of chemotherapy used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

BEAM is named after the initials of the chemotherapy drugs used, which are:

It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapystem cell transplants and the type of cancer you have. 

Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

About BEAM

BEAM is a high-dose chemotherapy treatment. It is given over the week before a stem cell transplant.

The high-dose chemotherapy destroys cancer cells in your bone marrow. But it also destroys your stem cells. You need stem cells to make healthy blood cells. 

So, before the high-dose chemotherapy some of your stem cells are collected and stored. Then after the high-dose chemotherapy these are given back to you as a drip into a vein. This is the stem cell transplant. These stem cells go into your bone marrow and begin to make new healthy blood cells again.

About mini-BEAM

Mini-BEAM means the chemotherapy drugs: 

  • are given in lower doses 
  • may be repeated after a rest period of 2 or 3 weeks. 

Mini-BEAM is used to treat lymphoma that has come back after treatment. Some people will then be able to have a stem cell transplant.

How BEAM or mini-BEAM are given

You will usually be given this treatment during a stay in hospital. Occasionally some people have it as an outpatient. This is only suitable for some people. For example, people who live close to the hospital, or decide to stay in nearby hospital accommodation, may be able to have treatment as an outpatient.

A chemotherapy nurse will give your treatment. 

During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a blood specialist doctor (haematologist), a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs can be given through: 

  • a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line)
  • a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).

The drugs will run through a pump. The pump gives you the treatment over a set time. You will also be given extra fluids through a drip before and after you have melphalan. This is to protect your kidneys.

Your course of chemotherapy

Your nurse or doctor will talk to you about how the treatment will be given. They may give you a copy of a treatment plan to take home with you.

You will have the chemotherapy over 6 days.

Day 1 

A nurse will give you carmustine as a drip (infusion) over 1 to 2 hours.

Days 2, 3, 4 and 5

A nurse will give you:

  • cytarabine twice a day as a drip over 30 minutes 
  • etoposide once a day as a drip over 2 hours.

Day 6 

A nurse will give you:

  • melphalan as a drip over 30 minutes
  • lots of fluids through a drip over several hours.

Stem cell transplant after BEAM

You will have the stem cells as a drip into your central or PICC line 24 hours after the melphalan has finished. 

Doctors call the day you are given stem cells Day 0. They may call the days before this day ‘minus days’ as they count down to the day you have your stem cells. For example, they may call day 6 ‘day minus 1’. Your nurse can explain this to you. 

Mini-BEAM 

If you are having mini-BEAM, you will have a rest period after the treatment. Your doctor will explain how long your rest period will be. The treatment and rest period is called a cycle. Each cycle takes 21 or 28 days (3 or 4 weeks). 

At the end of the 21 or 28 days, you start your next cycle of mini-BEAM. This is the same as the first cycle. Your doctor or nurse will tell you the number of cycles you are likely to have.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects. You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them.

You may also have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.

Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

More information

We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.

Side effects while treatment is being given

Some people may have side effects while they are being given the chemotherapy or shortly after they have it:

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • a skin rash
  • itching
  • shivering
  • feeling dizzy
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless 
  • swelling of your face or mouth
  • pain in your back, tummy or chest. 

Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your treatment. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, it can be treated quickly. 

Sometimes a reaction can happen a few hours after treatment. If you get any signs or feel unwell tell your nurse straight away. If you are having treatment as an outpatient contact the hospital straight away on the number they gave you.

The drug leaks outside the vein

The drug may leak outside the vein. If this happens it can damage the surrounding tissue. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important to treat it quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein.

Common side effects

Risk of infection

This treatment reduces the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. When the number of white blood cells is low, you are more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

Your doctor will give you antibiotics and other drugs to try to stop you getting an infection. These are called prophylactic medicines. 

If you have an infection, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. If you are having treatment as an outpatient contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have if:

  • your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F) 
  • you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you have symptoms of an infection. 

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery
  • a sore throat
  • a cough
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine often.

It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.

G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor) is a type of drug called a growth factor. It encourages the body to make more white blood cells. 

Your doctor may give you G-CSF:

  • if the number of white blood cells is very low 
  • to stop the number of white blood cells getting low. 

You have it as a small injection under the skin.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.

If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • heavy periods
  • blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
  • tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.

Tell your doctor if you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding. You may need a drip to give you extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may have symptoms such as:

  • pale skin
  • lack of energy
  • feeling breathless
  • feeling dizzy and light-headed.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.

If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Feeling sick

The nurses will give you anti-sickness drugs regularly to help prevent or control sickness during your treatment. If you feel sick or are sick (vomit), tell your nurse or doctor. They may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.

Feeling tired

This treatment will make you feel very tired and you will need a lot of rest. You will get tired easily for some months after treatment has finished. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. The tiredness will slowly get better.

If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is usual for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual.

If you have diarrhoea:

  • try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods
  • contact the hospital for advice.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. Constipation means that you are not able to pass stools (poo) as often as you normally do. It can become difficult or painful. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
  • Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
  • Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.

If you have constipation, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can give you drugs called laxatives to help.

Tummy (abdominal) pain

This treatment can cause tummy pain. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. They can give you medicines to help.

Hair loss

You will usually lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as other body hair.

Your nurse can talk to you about ways to cope with hair loss. There are ways to cover up hair loss if you want to. Your scalp may be sensitive. It is important to cover your head to protect your skin when you are out in the sun.

Hair loss is almost always temporary. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment finishes.

Sore mouth and throat

This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

If your mouth or throat is sore:

  • tell your nurse or doctor – they can give you a mouthwash or medicines to help
  • try to drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid alcohol, tobacco, and foods that irritate your mouth and throat.

Sucking ice chips may sometimes help relieve mouth or throat pain. 

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Do not worry if you do not eat much for a day or two. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They will give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements.

Effects on the eyes

This treatment may make your eyes feel sore, red and itchy (conjunctivitis). Your doctor will prescribe eye drops to help prevent this. It is important to use these as you are told to.

This treatment may also make your eyes more sensitive to light and cause blurry vision. If you have pain or notice any change in your vision, always tell your doctor or nurse.

If you usually wear contact lenses, do not use them on the days you use eye drops or if your eyes are sore. Check with your doctor when it will be okay to use them again.

Skin changes

Cytarabine may affect your skin. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. Cytarabine can cause a rash, which may be itchy. It may also cause your skin to become red or blistered.

If you have a high dose of cytarabine, your skin may peel.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.

Effects on the kidneys

The treatment can affect how your kidneys work. You will have blood tests before and during treatment to check this. Your nurse will ask you to drink plenty of fluids. They will also give you extra fluids through a drip on the day you have melphalan. This is to protect your kidneys. If you pass urine (pee) less often than usual, tell your nurse.

Effects on the liver

Chemotherapy may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment. But rarely it can cause yellowing of the whites of the eye or skin (jaundice). You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and after treatment.

If the treatment is causing heart problems, your doctor may change the type of treatment you are having.

Contact your doctor straight away on the 24-hour number the hospital has given you if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:
  • pain or tightness in your chest
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. You may have tests to check how well your lungs are working before, during and after your treatment. Sometimes your doctor may change your treatment to prevent lung problems. Tell your doctor if you develop:

  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness.

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse.

Less common side effects

Sore and red palms of hands and soles of feet

You may get sore and red palms of hands and soles of feet. The skin may also begin to peel. This is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. It usually gets better after treatment ends.

Tell your doctor or nurse about any changes to your hands or feet. They can give you advice and prescribe creams to improve any symptoms you have. It can help to:

  • keep your hands and feet cool
  • moisturise your hands and feet regularly
  • avoid tight-fitting socks, shoes and gloves.

Tumour lysis syndrome (TLS)

This treatment may cause the cancer cells to break down very quickly. This releases uric acid (a waste product) into the blood. The kidneys usually get rid of uric acid, but may not be able to cope with large amounts. This can cause chemical imbalances in the blood that affect the kidneys and the heart. This is called tumour lysis syndrome (TLS).

Your doctor may give you drugs and fluids through a drip to help prevent this. Drinking at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluid a day will also help.

Effects on the nervous system

BEAM can affect the nervous system. You may:

  • feel drowsy
  • feel confused
  • feel dizzy or unsteady
  • have pins and needles
  • feel tingling in your arms and legs.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any of these symptoms.

Second cancer

Rarely, BEAM can increase the risk of developing a second cancer, usually leukaemia, years later. But the benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.

Other information

Irradiated blood

For a few months after your treatment, any blood or platelet transfusions you are given are first treated with radiation (irradiated). This is to prevent problems caused by white blood cells called lymphocytes, in the donated blood. Irradiated blood is not radioactive and will not harm you or anyone you come into contact with.

Some people may need any blood or platelet transfusions to be irradiated for the rest of their lives. Your doctor will talk to you about this. You will be given a medical alert card to carry in case you need blood in an emergency or at another hospital.

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:

  • throbbing pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing
  • sharp chest pain, which may be worse when you cough or take a deep breath.

If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs that thin the blood (anticoagulants). Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

You can help reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by:

  • staying active during treatment
  • drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.

You may be given anticoagulants to help prevent a clot.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:

  • medicines you have been prescribed
  • medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
  • vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.

You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.

Alcohol

This treatment contains alcohol. If having alcohol is a problem for you, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Your blood alcohol level may be above the legal limit after you have the treatment. Do not drive or operate machinery for a few hours after having this treatment, even if you feel okay. Tell the nurse, pharmacist or doctor if you notice any effects of the alcohol after having this treatment.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment finishes. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Changes to periods

If you have a period, these may become irregular or stop while you are having this treatment. This may be temporary, but it can sometimes be permanent. Your menopause may start sooner than it would have done. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Sex

If you have sex during a course of this treatment, you should use barrier protection such as a condom or dental dam. This will protect your partner if any of the drug is in your semen or vaginal fluid.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.

If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. After high-dose treatment, you may lose your immunity to illnesses you were vaccinated against as a child. You may need to have some of these vaccinations again. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this.

They will also usually recommend that you have a flu vaccination and a coronavirus vaccination. These are both inactivated vaccinations that can help reduce the risk of infection. People with weak immune systems can have these, as they are not live vaccinations.

While your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations. This is because they can make you unwell. Live vaccines, such as shingles, contain a very weak version of the illness they are vaccinating you against. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live and inactivated vaccinations.

About our information


  • Reviewers

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

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.