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 the stem cells, and then replacing the stem cells afterwards. The replacements might be:

  • Your child’s 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 child’s situation but the aims of treatment might be to:

  • Destroy any cancer cells that might remain after your child’s 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 your child will need to stay in hospital during this time. It’s a complex procedure, and the 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 child's blood or bone marrow, or from the donor’s

  • They will then have the high-dose treatment, which destroys their remaining stem cells

  • After the high-dose treatment, their stem cells that have been stored, or new stem cells from a donor, are put into your child's body through a drip into their vein. 

While the transplanted stem cells are taking hold, and starting to produce new blood cells again, your child's immunity will be very low and they will be vulnerable to serious infections. They are likely to have a hospital room to themselves, and visitors might be limited to protect your child from infection.

It can be a lonely time, so think about how your child 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 your child is struggling or feeling low. 

Updated January 2015, next planned review 2017.