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High-dose Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplant for Hodgkin Lymphoma

Stem cell transplants (SCTs) are sometimes used for hard-to-treat Hodgkin lymphoma , such as disease that doesn’t go away completely after chemotherapy (chemo) and/or radiation or lymphoma that comes back after treatment.

The doses of chemo drugs given to patients normally are limited by the side effects these drugs cause. Higher doses can’t be used, even if they might kill more cancer cells, because they would severely damage the bone marrow, where new blood cells are made.

A stem cell transplant lets doctors give higher doses of chemo (sometimes along with radiation therapy). This is because after getting high-dose chemo, the patient receives a transplant of blood-forming stem cells to rebuild the bone marrow.

The blood-forming stem cells used for a transplant can come either from the blood or from the bone marrow. Today, most transplants are done with cells that are taken out of the blood and are called peripheral stem cell transplants.

Types of transplants

There are 2 main types of stem cell transplants. They use different sources of blood-forming stem cells.

  • In an autologous stem cell transplant, a patient’s own blood stem cells are collected several times in the weeks before treatment. The cells are frozen and stored while the person gets treatment (high-dose chemo and/or radiation) and then are given back into the patient’s blood by an IV. This is the most common type of transplant for Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • In an allogeneic stem cell transplant, the blood stem cells come from someone else. Usually this is a brother or sister, but the source could be an unrelated donor or umbilical cord blood. The donor’s tissue type (also known as the HLA type) needs to match the patient’s tissue type as closely as possible to help prevent major problems with the transplant. Usually, in treating Hodgkin lymphoma, an allogeneic transplant is used only if an autologous transplant has already been tried without success.

A stem cell transplant is a complex treatment that can cause life-threatening side effects. If the doctors think a person might benefit from a transplant, it should be done at a cancer center where the staff has experience with the procedure and with managing the recovery phase.

More information about stem cell transplant

To learn more about stem cell transplants, including how they are done and their potential side effects, see Stem Cell Transplant for Cancer.

For more general information about side effects and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Hodgkin Lymphoma, Version I.2018 -- December 20, 2017. Accessed at on March 20 2018.

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Last Revised: May 1, 2018

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