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High-Dose Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplant for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Stem cell transplants are sometimes used to treat people with lymphoma that is in remission or that has relapsed during or after treatment.

What is a stem cell transplant?

A stem cell transplant (also known as a bone marrow transplant) lets doctors give higher doses of chemotherapy (chemo), sometimes along with radiation therapy.

The doses of chemo drugs are normally limited by the side effects these drugs can 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.

But with a stem cell transplant, doctors can give high doses of chemo because the patient receives a transplant of blood-forming stem cells to restore the bone marrow afterward.

Types of stem cell transplants

There are 2 main types of stem cell transplants (SCTs) based on where the stem cells come from.

  • In an autologous stem cell transplant, the patient’s own stem cells are used. They are collected several times a few weeks before treatment begins. 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 (catheter in the vein).
  • In an allogeneic stem cell transplant, the stem cells come from someone else (a donor). Usually, this is a brother or sister, although the source may 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 lower the risk of major problems with the transplant. Regardless of the source, the stem cells are frozen and stored until they are needed for the transplant.

Autologous SCTs are used more often than allogeneic SCTs to treat lymphoma. Still, using the patient’s own cells may not be an option if the lymphoma has already spread to the bone marrow or blood, because it may make it hard to get a stem cell sample that is free of lymphoma cells.

Allogeneic transplants are used less often for lymphoma because they can have severe side effects that make them hard to tolerate, especially for patients who are older or who have other medical problems. It can also be hard to find a matched donor.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment. 2023. Accessed at on November 30, 2023.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: B-Cell Lymphomas. Version 6.2023. Accessed at on November 30, 2023.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: T-Cell Lymphomas. Version 1.2023. Accessed at on November 30, 2023.

Last Revised: February 15, 2024

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