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What is Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)?

HL is a cancer of the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that protect the body from infection. In HL, unhealthy lymphocytes first show up in the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands throughout the body. As the disease gets worse, these cells spread to other parts of the body.

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How does blood or marrow transplant (BMT) work for HL?

BMT replaces the immature blood-forming cells (stem cells) that grow into unhealthy lymphocytes with healthy ones. It’s also called a bone marrow transplant or blood stem cell transplant.

There are 2 types of transplants for HL:

  • Autologous transplant uses the patient’s own blood-forming cells which are collected and stored
  • Allogeneic transplant uses healthy blood-forming cells from a family member, unrelated donor, or umbilical cord blood

The most common type of transplant for HL is autologous. An autologous transplant uses very high doses of chemotherapy (chemo) to destroy all the lymphoma in the body. But, it also destroys the healthy blood-forming cells inside the bone marrow. The blood-forming cells repair the marrow so it can make healthy blood cells. If the lymphoma comes back after an autologous transplant, an allogeneic transplant may be the next option.

For both types of transplant, you get chemo first. Then, the replacement cells are given to you through an intravenous (IV) catheter. The cells travel to the inside of your bones and begin to make healthy blood cells.

The entire process, from the start of chemo until hospital discharge, can last weeks to months. This is followed by many months of recovery near the transplant center and at home. Your transplant team closely watches you to prevent and treat any side effects or complications.

When should I see a transplant doctor?

You should see a transplant doctor if the HL:

  • Doesn’t get better after initial treatment
  • Comes back (relapses) after initial treatment

Your first appointment with a transplant doctor

At your first appointment, the transplant doctor will:

  • Review your medical history
  • Talk with you about your treatment options
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of transplant
  • Recommend the best time for you to get a transplant and prepare for treatmentStart a donor search even if you don’t need an allogeneic transplant right away. This can help you get an allogeneic transplant faster if it’s needed later

Questions to ask your doctor

Ask questions so you understand your treatment options and can make decisions that are best for you. Questions you may want to ask your doctor include:

  • What are my chances of a cure or long-term remission if I get a transplant? If I don’t get a transplant? 
  • What are the risks of waiting or trying other treatments before a transplant? 
  • Do I have any risk factors that might affect my transplant outcomes? 
  • How much does my age influence my risk? 
  • What are the possible side effects of transplant? How can they be reduced? How might my quality of life change over time, with or without transplant? 

 Learn more about planning for transplant

Most recent medical review completed March 2017.