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Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

Fight cancer aggressively with healthy stem cells

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of the blood or certain other cancers, your doctor may recommend a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

These transplants grow new bone marrow and blood cells when your marrow has been damaged by chemotherapy or disease. Transplants may also provide donor immune cells that can directly fight your cancer.

What are Bone Marrow and Stem Cells?

Bone marrow is a sponge-like tissue found inside bones. Within bone marrow, stem cells grow and develop into the three main types of blood cells: red blood cells (which carry oxygen through the body), white blood cells (which fight infection) and platelets (which help your blood clot). Stem cells also grow many other cell types of the immune system.

How are Stem Cells Collected?

Stem cells can be collected from your own marrow or blood, donated by another person, or collected from umbilical cord blood (the blood in the cord connecting a fetus to a placenta). 

Blood stem cells are collected using a process called apheresis. In this process:

  • You, or the stem cell donor, will be connected to a special cell-separation machine via a needle in your arm or an IV line called a central venous catheter.
  • Blood circulates though the machine, which removes the stem cells.
  • The remaining blood and plasma is returned back to you or the donor through the opposite arm or the central venous catheter.
  • Stem cell apheresis may take more than one day if not enough cells are collected. 

The stem cells are then administered to you so that they can begin growing new, healthy blood cells.

What To Expect with Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

What are Bone Marrow and Stem Cells?

Bone marrow is a sponge-like tissue found inside bones. Within bone marrow, stem cells grow and develop into the three main types of blood cells: red blood cells (which carry oxygen through the body), white blood cells (which fight infection) and platelets (which help your blood clot). Stem cells also grow many other cell types of the immune system.

How are Stem Cells Collected?

Stem cells can be collected from your own marrow or blood, donated by another person, or collected from umbilical cord blood (the blood in the cord connecting a fetus to a placenta). 

Blood stem cells are collected using a process called apheresis. In this process:

  • You, or the stem cell donor, will be connected to a special cell-separation machine via a needle in your arm or an IV line called a central venous catheter.
  • Blood circulates though the machine, which removes the stem cells.
  • The remaining blood and plasma is returned back to you or the donor through the opposite arm or the central venous catheter.
  • Stem cell apheresis may take more than one day if not enough cells are collected. 

The stem cells are then administered to you so that they can begin growing new, healthy blood cells.

To prepare your body for bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you’ll be treated with high doses of chemotherapy with or without radiation to destroy cancerous cells. Some healthy cells may also be destroyed, which can cause unpleasant side effects. These side effects typically go away after a few weeks.

Once this preparation is complete, new stem cells will be transplanted through your veins and the cells will make their way to your bone marrow. These stem cells will mature into healthy marrow, to produces healthy blood and immune cells.

Your Cells versus Donor Cells

Stem cells transplants can come from your own bone marrow (autologous) or a donor’s marrow (allogeneic). Whether autologous or allogeneic stem cells are used depends on your condition, and the procedures have some differences.

Autologous Transplants

Uses your own stem cells. Before chemotherapy, your stem cells are collected by apheresis, frozen with a preservative and stored until they are needed. Because the cells are yours, there’s no risk of your body rejecting the transplanted stem cells. This method is appropriate for blood-related cancers like multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphomas and Hodgkin disease, as well as certain germ-cell cancers. 

Allogenic transplants 

Use healthy cells from a donor, when an immunological effect is needed to fight your cancer. Your donor will usually be a sibling or a strong match from the national registry. If a matched sibling or unrelated donor cannot be found, cord blood stem cells or a mismatched relative donor may be used. 

The donor’s stem cells are collected by apheresis or from the bone marrow in a surgical procedure. You’ll need to take medicines to suppress your immune system to prevent rejection and keep the donor’s immune cells from attacking your normal cells. Donor-cell transplant is used to treat blood-related cancers like leukemias and some lymphomas or multiple myeloma, and bone marrow failure disorders like myelodysplastic syndrome and aplastic anemia.

Preparing For Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

To prepare your body for bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you’ll be treated with high doses of chemotherapy with or without radiation to destroy cancerous cells. Some healthy cells may also be destroyed, which can cause unpleasant side effects. These side effects typically go away after a few weeks.

Once this preparation is complete, new stem cells will be transplanted through your veins and the cells will make their way to your bone marrow. These stem cells will mature into healthy marrow, to produces healthy blood and immune cells.

Your Cells versus Donor Cells

Stem cells transplants can come from your own bone marrow (autologous) or a donor’s marrow (allogeneic). Whether autologous or allogeneic stem cells are used depends on your condition, and the procedures have some differences.

Autologous Transplants

Uses your own stem cells. Before chemotherapy, your stem cells are collected by apheresis, frozen with a preservative and stored until they are needed. Because the cells are yours, there’s no risk of your body rejecting the transplanted stem cells. This method is appropriate for blood-related cancers like multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphomas and Hodgkin disease, as well as certain germ-cell cancers. 

Allogenic transplants 

Use healthy cells from a donor, when an immunological effect is needed to fight your cancer. Your donor will usually be a sibling or a strong match from the national registry. If a matched sibling or unrelated donor cannot be found, cord blood stem cells or a mismatched relative donor may be used. 

The donor’s stem cells are collected by apheresis or from the bone marrow in a surgical procedure. You’ll need to take medicines to suppress your immune system to prevent rejection and keep the donor’s immune cells from attacking your normal cells. Donor-cell transplant is used to treat blood-related cancers like leukemias and some lymphomas or multiple myeloma, and bone marrow failure disorders like myelodysplastic syndrome and aplastic anemia.

After either form of transplant, you should be able to return to your normal activities within a few weeks or months. Your doctor can explain in detail what side effects you need to be prepared for, and how best to handle them. Your care team will closely monitor your recovery and watch you for complications.

After Your Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

After either form of transplant, you should be able to return to your normal activities within a few weeks or months. Your doctor can explain in detail what side effects you need to be prepared for, and how best to handle them. Your care team will closely monitor your recovery and watch you for complications.

  • Is bone marrow or stem cell transplant a good treatment option for me? 
  • Which type of transplant (my own cells or donor cells) will I get? 
  • What are the side effects of the preparation and treatment?
  • How long will I be in the hospital? 
  • When can I return to work or my other activities?
  • Will I need to be on long-term medications? 
  • What are the risks of a bone marrow/stem cell transplant? 

Questions To Ask Your Provider About Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

  • Is bone marrow or stem cell transplant a good treatment option for me? 
  • Which type of transplant (my own cells or donor cells) will I get? 
  • What are the side effects of the preparation and treatment?
  • How long will I be in the hospital? 
  • When can I return to work or my other activities?
  • Will I need to be on long-term medications? 
  • What are the risks of a bone marrow/stem cell transplant? 

Patient Stories for Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant

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