Stem cell transplant

You might hear different names for this treatment approach, including high-dose treatment with stem cell support, peripheral blood stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant.

But, essentially, they all involve having high-dose treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy which destroys your stem cells, and then replacing the stem cells afterwards. The replacements might be:

  • Your own stem cells, which have been removed and saved before the high-dose treatment (called an autologous transplant), or
  • Stem cells taken from someone else (a donor – this is called an allogenic transplant).

When are stem cell transplants used?

Stem cell transplants can be used for a number of different cancers, including some types of lymphoma and leukaemia. It depends on your situation but the aims of treatment might be to:

  • Destroy any cancer cells that might remain after your initial treatment
  • Stop the cancer from coming back (keeping it in remission)
  • Treat cancer that has not responded to ordinary therapy.

How is a stem cell transplant done?

This treatment takes several weeks and you will need to stay in hospital during this time. It’s a complex procedure, and your doctors and nurses will explain everything that will happen. They will also discuss the possible benefits and drawbacks. Here are the basic steps:

  • Stem cells are collected from your blood or bone marrow, or from the donor’s
  • You then have the high-dose treatment, which destroys your remaining stem cells
  • After the high-dose treatment, your stem cells that have been stored, or new stem cells from a donor, are put into your body through a drip into your vein.

While the transplanted stem cells are taking hold, and starting to produce new blood cells again, your immunity will be really low and you will be vulnerable to serious infections. So you will probably have a hospital room to yourself. Visitors might be limited, too, to protect you from infection.

It can be a lonely time, so think about how you could stay in touch with family and friends by phone, email or through social networks. Talking to people who have been through it themselves can help. And, remember, you can always speak to your care team if you are struggling or feeling low.

Updated December 2014, next planned review 2017.