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Very high doses of chemotherapy (chemo) drugs might work better to kill acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) cells, but they can severely damage normal bone marrow cells, which could be life-threatening. Stem cell transplants (SCT) offer a way for doctors to use high doses of chemo. Although the drugs destroy the bone marrow, transplanted stem cells can restore the bone marrow's ability to make blood.

Stem cells for a transplant come from either the blood or from the bone marrow. They can also come from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby.

These blood-forming stem cells can come from either the patient or from a donor whose tissue type closely matches the patient’s type. For people with ALL, a donor (or allogeneic) transplant is most often used. The donor may be a brother or sister or – less often – a person not related to the patient. If the patient’s own cells are used it is called an autologous stem cell transplant, but this is not often done for ALL because it is hard to separate normal stem cells from leukemia cells in the bone marrow or blood. That means there is the risk of returning some leukemia cells with an autologous stem cell transplant.

To learn more about stem cell transplants and their side effects, see Stem Cell Transplant (Peripheral Blood, Bone Marrow, and Cord Blood Transplants).

Last Medical Review: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/22/2016