High dose treatment

To treat some cancers, it may take a higher than normal dose of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

What is high-dose treatment with stem cell support?

In these cases, you may need a transplant of your own stem cells (early blood cells) to replace the ones destroyed by the treatment. This is known as high-dose treatment with stem cell support. It is sometimes called an autologous transplant, because the cells you receive are your own.

The specific details of this treatment vary greatly from one person to another, so the information on this page is meant as a general guide only. Your specialist will be able to give you more information about how your treatment will proceed, and any side effects to watch out for.

When is high-dose treatment with stem cell support used?

High-dose treatment with stem cell support can be used to treat a number of different cancers, including some types of lymphoma and leukaemia. It can be used to destroy any remaining cancer cells after a standard treatment has taken place, or to keep the cancer in remission as long as possible. It also may be used if the cancer hasn’t responded to the initial treatment, or has returned.

How is high-dose treatment with stem cell support given?

As well as destroying your cancer cells, the high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy also destroy the stem cells in your bone marrow. Therefore, before the treatment begins, your own stem cells will be collected and frozen. These stem cells are usually collected from your blood, or if this is not possible, from your bone marrow.

After your treatment, your stem cells are given back to you through a drip. This is known as infusion. It usually takes about two weeks before these stem cells begin to make new blood cells. You will probably be looked after in a room by yourself at the hospital and given antibiotics to reduce your risk of infection. You will probably need to stay in hospital for up to four to six weeks.

Updated December 2014, next planned review 2017.