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A stem cell transplant (also known as a bone marrow transplant) lets doctors give higher doses of chemotherapy, sometimes along with radiation therapy.
The doses of chemotherapy 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 afterwards.
Stem cell transplants are sometimes used to treat lymphoma patients who are in remission or who have a relapse during or after treatment. Although only a small number of people with lymphoma are treated with this therapy, this number is growing.
There are 2 main types of stem cell transplants (SCTs) based on where the stem cells come from.
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 spread to the bone marrow or blood. If that happens, it may be 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.
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.
Freedman AS, Jacobson CA, Mauch P, Aster JC. Chapter 103: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma/hp/adult-nhl-treatment-pdq on May 3, 2018.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: B-cell Lymphomas. Version 3.2018. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/b-cell.pdf on May 2, 2018.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: T-cell Lymphomas. Version 3.2018. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/t-cell.pdf on May 2, 2018.
Roschewski MJ, Wilson WH. Chapter 106: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2014.
Last Revised: August 1, 2018