Some patients may have lymphoma that resists treatment or that returns after a period of remission. If you fall into either category, your doctor may recommend an autologous stem cell transplantation so you can better tolerate intensive chemotherapy.
Because of the high, sometimes life-threatening risks of stem cell transplantation, doctors don't recommend it for initial treatment. However, autologous stem cell transplantation may cure some patients whose lymphoma is in first relapse (the lymphoma has returned after a period of no sign of the disease). Transplantation for first remission is being done only in clinical trials, with a few exceptions, such as mantle cell lymphoma treatment.
There are several kinds of stem cell transplantation. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) patients most commonly undergo autologous stem cell transplantation, when your own noncancerous stem cells are "harvested," or retrieved, from your body and frozen. Your cells are returned to your body by injection after you receive intensive drug therapy.
Autologous transplantation doesn't carry as much risk as allogeneic stem cell transplantation when stem cells come from a matched donor. Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is used to treat only selected NHL patients.