Novel Therapies Likely to Change Role of Stem Cell Transplants in Blood Cancers

Andrew D. Smith
Published: Friday, Jan 15, 2016
Kenneth C. Anderson, MD

Kenneth C. Anderson, MD

Stem cell transplantation was rightly hailed as a breakthrough treatment for people with many blood-based cancers when pioneering hematologists began using them regularly in the 1970s. Their popularity grew slowly but steadily throughout the 1980s and then took off in the 1990s as multiple studies demonstrated their efficacy and new techniques made them safer. Total annual US transplantation figures grew from less than 2000 in 1990 to more than 19,000 in 2013, according to the Center for International Blood & Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR).1

At the same time, however, transplant techniques are improving. Mortality and morbidity both appear to be declining with the emergence of better antibiotics and growth factors, so hematologists are beginning to consider transplants for patients who were once considered too old or too sickly to endure anything as harsh as a stem cell transplant.

Mixed Picture in Leukemias

“We have seen the numbers of patients transplanted for certin diseases move in both directions,” Martin S. Tallman, MD, chief of the Leukemia Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), said in an interview. “Targeted therapies have greatly reduced our use of stem cell transplants in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia [CML] and begun to reduce them in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia [CLL]. On the other hand, patients historically felt to be too old to meet traditional transplantation guidelines may now undergo reduced-intensity transplantation.”

A Snapshot of Stem Cell Transplants in United States

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