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Treatment options for blood cancers and disorders

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A stem cell transplant is one of many possible treatment options for blood cancers and blood disorders. Some of these treatments may provide a cure for your condition while others will help to relieve your symptoms on a day-to-day basis.

There are lots of common questions around treatments. Here we provide some of the answers and link to websites where you can find more information.

What's the best treatment option for me?

When it comes to deciding on the best treatment, there are many factors that need to be considered, including:

  • the condition you have
  • how early it has been diagnosed
  • your symptoms and how likely they are to respond to treatment
  • genetics – a drug may be available that specifically targets the cause of your condition
  • your age and general health.

Some conditions can be managed through non-curative treatments such as regular blood transfusions – especially if you have a blood disorder. If you have a blood cancer you might be given chemotherapy or radiotherapy in the first instance to get your body into remission.

A stem cell transplant will be considered if treatments have been unsuccessful, your symptoms are becoming difficult to manage or if there is a high risk of relapse.

Your medical team will be able to give you specific and personalised advice about your own situation.

What is chemotherapy?

All chemotherapy drugs are designed to target and destroy dividing cells. Cancerous or abnormal cells divide more quickly than normal cells and so chemotherapy is more effective against them. Unfortunately these drugs also attack healthy cells, which is why many patients experience side effects such as nausea, tiredness and hair loss during treatment.    

Chemotherapy aims to get your condition into remission, where abnormal cells are no longer growing and dividing. Doctors will often combine multiple drugs, as well as radiotherapy, to give the best chance of remission occurring.

Chemotherapy is also given in preparation for a stem cell transplant. It removes the cells of your immune system and makes space for the new stem cells that you receive from your donor. This treatment is known as conditioning therapy.

More information on chemotherapy is available from Macmillan.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy works by using high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It’s an effective first line of treatment for some leukaemia and lymphomas. Radiotherapy is delivered by specialists who can target the correct dose to a precise area of the body.  

Unfortunately, radiotherapy also damages normal cells, which can cause side effects. These vary greatly for each person; some people experience mild symptoms, such as tiredness, while for others it can be more debilitating. These side effects normally pass within a few weeks.

More information on radiotherapy is available from the NHS website.

As with chemotherapy, radiotherapy is used to prepare a patient for a stem cell transplant as part of the conditioning therapy. It will usually be given to your whole body, when it is known as total body irradiation (TBI).

Information published: 15/02/21
Next review due: 15/02/24

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

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