How stem cells help treat cancer

How stem cells help treat cancer

Stem cell transplants are used to treat certain types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. The treatment replenishes stem cells that were destroyed during radiation or chemotherapy treatment, which allows the patient to undergo higher doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Stem cells are young blood cells that eventually mature into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. During stem cell treatment, stem cells are injected into a vein, similar to a blood transfusion. They then settle into the body, grow and make healthy blood cells. This is called engraftment. There are three different types of stem cell transplants based on who provides the stem cells: autologous, allogenic and syngeneic. 

Autologous stem cell transplants
Autologous transplants are typically used to treat certain leukemias, lymphomas, multiple myelomas, testicular cancers, neuroblastomas and cancers in children. With these transplants, the stem cells come from the patient's own body. Once the stem cells are removed from the patient's blood or bone marrow, they're frozen. When the chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment is complete, the stem cells are thawed and engrafted back into the patient's bloodstream.

With autologous transplants, the patient doesn't have to worry about the cells attacking their body or about getting an infection from a cell donor. One potential disadvantage of this type of transplant is that the harvested cells may contain cancer cells, which are then put back into the patient's body.

Allogeneic stem cell transplants
In allogeneic transplants, the stem cells come from a donor, and the donor often has a very similar tissue type to the patient. The best donor is usually a close family member, such as a brother or sister. Donors can also be found through a national registry, though these transplants are usually riskier.

Blood taken from the placenta and umbilical cord of a newborn, called cord blood, is a newer source of stem cells for this type of transplant. Cord blood stem cells tend to multiply quickly. However, one unit of cord blood often doesn't contain enough stem cells for a large adult, so cord blood transplants are more often performed in children and small adults.

Syngeneic Stem Cell Transplants
In syngeneic transplants, the stem cells come from an identical sibling. This eliminates the risk of the patient contracting graft-versus-host disease, and the transplanted stem cells don't carry any cancer, which is a possibility in an autologous transplant. One potential disadvantage is that because the new immune system is so similar to the recipient's, there's no graft-versus-cancer effect. This is why it's so important to destroy all cancer cells before performing the transplant.

If you're undergoing treatment for cancer and have questions regarding stem cell transplant treatments, contact the Goshen Center for Cancer Care at (888) 492-4673.

Posted: 12/14/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: Cancer Care

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