A stem cell transplant replaces bone marrow that has been damaged by disease or destroyed by chemotherapy with healthy bone marrow stem cells. Bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue inside your bones.
Stem cells — immature cells in the bone marrow — have the ability to form all blood types. These include red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that treat infection, and platelets that prevent bleeding. In addition, stem cells are able to form themselves so a single cell could reproduce the entire bone marrow after it is damaged.
The blood-forming stem cells used in transplants can come from the bloodstream, bone marrow or umbilical cord. You receive stem cells through a needle placed in your vein.
What types of diseases are commonly treated with a stem cell transplant?
- Leukemias (acute and chronic). Learn more about Matt's lifesaving stem cell transplant at the HonorHealth Transplant Institute.
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- Hodgkin's disease.
- Multiple myeloma.
- Aplastic anemia.
- Myelodysplastic disorders.
- Certain solid tumors (germ cell, neuroblastoma).
Types of stem cell transplants
There are two types:
- Autologous, using your own cells: An HonorHealth specialist will collect your own stem cells from your blood. You'll receive very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to kill the tumor cells in your body. Because the levels of chemotherapy required to kill tumor cells are often five to 10 times higher than regular chemotherapy doses, healthy cells living in your bone marrow also die. To rebuild your immune system, the stem cells removed from your body are treated and then reintroduced intravenously. Stem cells used in the transplant are rarely collected from your bone marrow because they're readily available in your blood.
- Allogeneic, using donor cells: After careful screening for compatibility, your donor's stem cells are collected from the bloodstream or bone marrow. When the donor cells grow to form the new blood stem cells, they retain some of the characteristics of the original donor. The donor will be selected from family members or through the national bone marrow registry.
Related Story: Read about the perfect match.
This transplant also typically involves very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to kill the underlying cancer cells. You receive donor cells intravenously after chemotherapy or radiation.
Which transplant is right for you?
Your team of experts at HonorHealth will weigh several factors to determine which type of transplant is right for you:
- The type of cancer you have.
- How you have responded to treatment.
- Your general health.
- Risks and benefits.