Stem cell transplant for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A stem cell transplant is sometimes used to treat childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It is used to replace stem cells when stem cells or bone marrow are damaged. A stem cell transplant is 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 of 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.

Your child may be offered a stem cell transplant to treat NHL if:

  • the cancer does not respond to other treatments or is resistant to treatment
  • the cancer comes back (recurs) after treatment

Types of transplants used for childhood NHL

The following types of stem cell transplant may be used with childhood NHL.


In this type of transplant, the stem cells are taken from the child’s own blood or bone marrow.

Autologous transplants are the most common type used to treat childhood NHL. Before the stem cells are collected, the doctor will do bone marrow aspiration and biopsy to make sure that there are no cancer cells in the bone marrow. Stem cells are usually collected from the peripheral blood through a special venous catheter after recovery from a cycle of chemotherapy. The stem cells are then frozen until they are needed.


In this type of transplant, the stem cells are taken from one person (the donor) and are given to the child receiving the transplant (the recipient). The donor may be a relative or may be unrelated to the child. The stem cells may be collected from the donor’s bone marrow or peripheral blood or from an umbilical cord. The donor and recipient are matched through a process called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing.

Allogeneic transplants may be used to treat certain types of relapsed childhood NHL.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for NHL, but every child’s experience is different. Some children have many side effects. Other children have only a few side effects.

Side effects 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 the child’s overall health. Common side effects of a stem cell transplant include:

Side effects can develop months or years after treatment for childhood NHL. Find out more about late effects for childhood NHL.

Tell the 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.

Questions to ask about stem cell transplant

Find out more about stem cell transplants and side effects of stem cell transplants. To make the decisions that are right for your child, ask the healthcare team questions about stem cell transplant.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Treating Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children. 2017.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Lymphoma - Non-Hodgkin - Childhood. 2017.
  • Gross TG & Perkins SL . Malignant non-Hodgkin lymphomas in children. Pizzo, P. A. & Poplack, D. G. (Eds.). Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 23:pp. 663-682.
  • National Cancer Institute. Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. 2018.
  • National Cancer Institute. Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2018.
  • Truong TH, Weitzman, S, Arceci RJ . Non-Hodgkin lymphoma of childhood. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP & Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 48: pp. 1049-1072.
  • Woods D, McDonald, L . Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Baggott C, Fochtman D, Foley GV & Patterson Kelly, K (eds.). Nursing Care of Children and Adolescents with Cancer. 4rd ed. APHON; 2011: 29: pp. 1023-1037.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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