'Mini' Stem Cell Transplant May Help Seniors With Blood Cancer

One-third of study patients over 60 had improved overall 5-year survival, researchers report

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TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Age in itself should not be a factor in deciding whether blood cancer patients are candidates for stem cell transplantation, according to a new study.

Blood cancers include leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

For the study, researchers analyzed long-term outcomes among 372 blood cancer patients aged 60 to 75 who underwent a "mini-transplant," which is a "kinder, gentler" form of allogeneic (cells from another person) stem cell transplantation developed at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The five-year rates of overall survival and disease progression-free survival among the patients were 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Comparable survival rates were seen when the patients were divided into three age groups -- 60 to 64, 65 to 69, and 70 to 75 -- suggesting that age plays a limited role in the success of the mini-transplant.

While a survival rate of one-third may seem low, all of the patients would have died within months if they didn't have the transplant, Dr. Mohamed Sorror, an assistant member of the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division, noted in a news release from the Center.

The investigators also found that greater cancer aggressiveness and having a larger number of medical problems not linked to cancer ("comorbidities") were two factors that affected survival, regardless of age.

For example, the five-year survival for patients with less aggressive cancer and fewer comorbidities was 69 percent, compared with 23 percent for patients with more aggressive cancer and a large number of comorbidities, according to the report in the Nov. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Conventional stem cell transplants are generally not performed on blood cancer patients older than 60 because high doses of total-body radiation and potent chemotherapy are used to prepare patients for transplantation.

However, the mini-transplant relies on the donor's immune cells to kill the cancer, and low-dose radiation and chemotherapy is used to suppress the immune system rather than destroy it.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about blood cancers.

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