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High-Dose Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplant for Rhabdomyosarcoma

A stem cell transplant (sometimes referred to as a bone marrow transplant) makes it possible to use much higher doses of chemotherapy (chemo) than would normally be possible. Chemo 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 can get 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 chemo and then putting them back into the blood after chemo 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's 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 at this time.

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. Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®). 2018. Accessed at on June 4, 2018.

Okcu MF, Hicks J. Rhabdomyosarcoma in childhood and adolescence: Treatment. UpToDate. Accessed at on June 4, 2018.

Wexler LH, Skapek SX, Helman LJ. Chapter 31: Rhabdomyosarcoma. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.

Last Revised: July 16, 2018

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