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Stem cell transplant for Hodgkin lymphoma
A stem cell transplant is sometimes used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). It is used to replace stem cells when stem cells or bone marrow are damaged. A stem cell transplant is very risky and complex, and the procedure must be done in a specialized transplant centre or hospital.
Stem cells are found in the bone marrow, the bloodstream and umbilical cords. They are basic cells that develop into different types of cells that have different jobs. For example, all our blood cells develop from blood stem cells.
A stem cell transplant uses high-dose chemotherapy to kill all the cells in the bone marrow. This includes both healthy cells and the lymphoma cells. After high-dose chemotherapy, healthy stem cells are given to replace the ones in the bone marrow that were destroyed.
You may be offered a stem cell transplant to treat HL if:
- other treatments for HL don’t work or stop working (called refractory HL)
- HL comes back after other treatments (called relapsed, or recurrent, HL)
Types of transplants used for Hodgkin lymphoma
The following types of stem cell transplant may be used with Hodgkin lymphoma.
In this type of transplant, the stem cells are taken from your own bone marrow or blood.
An autologous transplant is the most common type done for HL. But it may not be possible to do an autologous transplant if HL has spread to the bone marrow and there aren’t enough healthy stem cells.
In this type of transplant, the stem cells are taken from one person (the donor) and are given to another person (the recipient). The donor may be a relative or may be unrelated to the recipient. The donor and recipient are matched through a process called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing.
An allogeneic transplant is not commonly done for HL. It is used only if an autologous transplant doesn’t successfully treat the HL.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for HL, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after a stem cell transplant. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after a stem cell transplant. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of a stem cell transplant will depend mainly on the type of chemotherapy drug or drug combination given, if radiation therapy was given, the type of transplant and your overall health. Common side effects of a stem cell transplant include:
- low blood cell counts (called bone marrow suppression)
- graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
- digestive system problems
The side effects of a stem cell transplant can be very serious or even life-threatening. Your healthcare team will watch you very closely and take measures to prevent or quickly deal with any side effects. Tell your healthcare team if you have side effects that you think might be from a stem cell transplant. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Questions to ask about stem cell transplant
Support from someone who has ‘been there’
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.