High-Dose Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplants for Rhabdomyosarcoma
A stem cell transplant (sometimes referred to as a bone marrow transplant) makes it possible to use much higher doses of chemotherapy than would normally be possible. Chemotherapy drugs kill rapidly dividing normal cells (such as those in the bone marrow, where new blood cells are made) as well as cancer cells. Higher doses of these drugs might be more effective in treating some cancers, but they can’t be given because the severe damage to the bone marrow would cause life-threatening shortages of blood cells.
A stem cell transplant gets around this problem by taking out and saving some of the patient’s own blood-forming stem cells (either from the blood or bone marrow) before high-dose chemotherapy and then putting them back into the blood after chemotherapy is over. The stem cells then travel to the bone marrow, which lets the normal marrow regrow.
Stem cell transplants are used to treat some aggressive childhood cancers, but so far it is not clear if they can help rhabdomyosarcoma patients. Because of the severe side effects they can cause, most doctors recommend they be used only as part of a clinical trial.
For more on stem cell transplants, see our document Stem Cell Transplant for Cancer.
Last Medical Review: November 20, 2014 Last Revised: November 21, 2014