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Potential Side Effects from a Stem Cell Transplant for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

The early side effects of a stem cell transplant aren’t from the transplant, but rather from the high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. These can be serious, but they should go away over time while you are recovering from the transplant. You may also experience a strange taste in your mouth from the preservative used to freeze the stem cells. These are some common side effects. They vary depending on whether or not you received your stem cells from a donor. Ask your doctor which ones may be most likely for you:

  • Coughing

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever or chills

  • Hair loss

  • Infections

  • Loss of appetite

  • Low blood cell counts, as identified from blood tests

  • Low blood pressure

  • Mouth sores

  • Nausea

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tightness or pain in the chest

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

Other side effects may appear years later or be long-lasting. These are possible long-term side effects:

  • Bone damage due to lack of blood supply. This is called aseptic necrosis.

  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a possible side effect only of allogeneic (donor) transplants. This condition occurs if the immune cells in the donor’s stem cells attack your skin, liver, gastrointestinal tract, mouth, or other organs. The symptoms include severe skin rashes with itching, severe diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches. Mild GVHD can be a good thing as it attacks any remaining lymphoma cells as well, but more severe GVHD may be debilitating or even life-threatening.

  • Lack of menstrual periods or problems getting pregnant, which may indicate ovary damage for women

  • Infertility in men

  • Shortness of breath, often caused by radiation damage to the lungs

  • Weight gain, which may be a sign of damage to the thyroid gland

  • Vision problems caused by damage to the lens of the eye

  • Development of another cancer, such as leukemia, years later 

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kolbus, Karin, RN, DNP, COHN-S
Date Last Reviewed: 2/11/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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