Stem cell transplantation following chemotherapy can extend survival and potentially cure certain advanced cancers. Although these demanding procedures were once considered too risky for older patients, advances in transplant methods are challenging that assumption.
“In transplants involving donor cells, there was concern that older patients wouldn’t be able to tolerate the high doses of chemotherapy traditionally used,” explains Joseph Antin, MD, chief of the Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC)
“Older patients were also thought to be more at risk from graft-versus-host disease,” a sometimes severe condition in which immune system cells in the transplanted tissue attack the patient’s own tissue, Antin adds.
Now, due largely to the development of reduced-intensity transplants, which use lower doses of chemotherapy than standard transplants, greater numbers of older people nationwide are getting transplants. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, for example, 1,627 patients 55 and older underwent transplants between 2011 and 2015, compared to 964 between 2006 and 2010.