Stem cell transplant for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours
A stem cell transplant is sometimes used to treat childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. 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 is used to replace stem cells when stem cells or bone marrow are damaged. They can be damaged by disease or destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Your child may be offered high-dose chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant (sometimes called stem cell rescue) to treat certain types of childhood brain and spinal cord tumours if it has come back (recurred) after treatment.
A stem cell transplant is very risky and complex, and the procedure must be done in a specialized treatment centre or hospital.
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In this type of transplant, the stem cells are taken from your child’s own bone marrow or blood. They are frozen and stored. After chemotherapy is given, the stem cells are thawed and given back to the child.
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Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours, but every child’s experience is different.
If your child develops 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 and the child’s overall health. Common side effects of a stem cell transplant include:
- low blood cell counts
graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
- digestive system problems
Other side effects can develop months or years after treatment for brain and spinal cord tumours. Find out more about late effects of treatments for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours.
Tell your child’s healthcare team if your child has side effects 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 your child deal with them.
American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children. 2016.
Macmillan Cancer Support. Brain tumours in children. Macmillan Cancer Support; 2015.
National Cancer Institute. Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview (PDQ). 2015.
National Cancer Institute. Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview - for health professionals (PDQ). 2015.