Graft-Versus-Host Disease

Some individuals being treated for certain cancers may undergo a Stem Cell Transplant along with Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy. In Stem Cell Transplantation, healthy stem cells are taken either from themselves or a donor.

An allogeneic transplant is a procedure which involves using blood-forming stem cells (cells from which all blood cells develop) from a genetically similar, but not identical, cancer-free donor who matches the recipient’s tissue type. Most commonly, donors are a close relative, such as a sibling, but could also be an unrelated donor.

Using a donor for stem cell transplants offers what is called a graft-versus-cancer effect, in which the donor’s stem cells (graft) may attack any cancer cells found in the recipient (host).

Unfortunately, however, a stem cell transplant can also cause a condition called graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD).

GVHD is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition in which the donor cells attack the recipient’s healthy cells, causing a range of medical problems.

Types of Graft-Versus-Host Disease

There are two types of GVHD: acute and chronic.

Acute GVHD

It is hard to say exactly how often acute GVHD occurs, but some reports say 20 percent others say even as high as 80%  of people who undergo an allogeneic transplant develop GVHD. This works out to over 5,500 people each year.

Acute GVHD is diagnosed within the first 100 days following an allogeneic stem cell transplant, most commonly occurring within the first 2-3 weeks following the procedure.

During this time, the new bone marrow begins to make new blood cells and the donor’s immune cells start to attack the recipient’s healthy cells.

Acute GVHD can affect the skin, liver, and gut causing symptoms, such as skin rashes, diarrhoea (sometimes with stomach pain and vomiting), or an increase in the liver enzymes. Some will go on to develop chronic GVHD.

Chronic GVHD

Chronic GVHD most commonly occurs in people who have experienced acute GVHD. It can occur anywhere from 3 months to more than a year following a stem cell transplant. Cases of chronic GVHD can range from mild to severe and can be long-lasting and debilitating.

Chronic GVHD can lead to skin problems and hair-loss. It can also damage organs, such as the lungs and liver.

Chronic GVHD can have different effects on many parts of the body:

  • Skin: Skin rashes and changes, such as drying, scaling, scarring, hardening, and darkening.
  • Joints: Restricted motion due to skin scarring.
  • Hair: Hair loss.
  • Mouth: Ulcers may form in the lining of the mouth and the food pipe due to membrane dryness.
  • Eyes: Loss of tears, redness, and irritation.
  • Genitals: Vaginal dryness, stenosis.
  • Lungs: Scarring and dryness.
  • Liver: Liver damage and failure, jaundice.


Read more about GVHD on our dedicated Page, Graft-Versus-Host Disease in Childhood Cancer



About LFCT

This is a blog about CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 25 July, 2017, in Blog, Cancer Treatments, Side Effects and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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