Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Overview

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Treating Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma TOPICS

Bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Stem cell transplants are sometimes used to treat lymphoma patients who are in remission (that is, they seem to be disease-free after treatment) or who have had the cancer come back (relapse) during or after treatment.

In a stem cell transplant, patients are given higher doses of chemotherapy (chemo) than would normally be safe. Sometimes radiation is given, too. This treatment destroys the bone marrow, which keeps new blood cells from being made. Normally, this could lead to life-threatening infections, bleeding, and other problems due to low blood cell counts. To get around this problem, after chemo (and sometimes radiation treatment) is finished, the patient gets an infusion of blood-forming stem cells to restore the bone marrow. Blood-forming stem cells are very early cells that can make new blood cells. They are different from embryonic stem cells.

Here are the main types of stem cell transplants.

Autologous stem cell transplant: For this type of transplant, blood-forming stem cells come from the patient's own blood or, less often, from the bone marrow (before the transplant). This is the most common type of transplant used to treat lymphoma, but it generally isn't an option if the lymphoma has spread to the bone marrow or blood. If that happens, it may be hard to get a stem cell sample with no lymphoma cells in it.

Donor (allogeneic) stem cell transplant: In this approach, the stem cells come from someone else. The best results occur when the donor has a tissue type that is very close to the patient’s. Often this means a close relative like a brother or sister.

Some things to keep in mind

Stem cell transplant is a complex treatment that can have severe and even deadly side effects, so it is important to have it done at a hospital where the staff has experience with the procedure.

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

Last Medical Review: 08/27/2014
Last Revised: 01/22/2016