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Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant

What is bone marrow or stem cell transplant?

Some cancers require high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat them effectively. However, high doses of chemotherapy often severely lower white blood cell count or decrease function of the immune system. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure in which high dose therapy is given, followed by an intravenous infusion of healthy bone marrow or stem cells. These cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new bone marrow cells in about 2-3 weeks. This is called engraftment.

Bone marrow or stem cells are either autologous (your own cells) or allogeneic (donated from someone else).

Why are bone marrow or stem cell transplants used in cancer patients?

Higher than normal doses of chemotherapy can only be given if a bone marrow or stem cell transplant is available to help the bone marrow recover.

Why are there side effects when someone receives a bone marrow or stem cell transplant?

  • Side effects in allogeneic transplants depend on how closely the donated bone marrow or stem cells match the patient. Even with a "perfect" match, some side effects can occur.
  • Side effects from the high dose therapy are the same as with general chemotherapy, but they may be more intense.

What are the most common side effects of bone marrow or stem cell transplant?

  • Bleeding
  • Failure for bone marrow to regrow (engraft)
  • Graft-verses-host disease ("GVHD") in allogeneic (marrow/stem cells from another person) transplants
  • Infections
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