What is a bone marrow transplant?

Why a Bone marrow transplant may be recommended for certain cancer patients?

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is cancer affecting blood cells. When the myeloid cells become abnormal, these cells then grow uncontrollably. White blood cells are often affected, but red blood cells and platelets can also be affected. As these abnormal cells grow, they crowd out the bone marrow. This prevents healthy cells from having room to grow.

A treatment that may be recommended for AML can include a bone marrow transplant. This may also be referred to as a stem cell transplant.

AML is often treated with chemotherapy. Although chemotherapy can kill cancerous cells, healthy cells can be killed by the chemotherapy as well. When trying to cure AML, high doses of chemotherapy may need to be given, which puts the patient at risk for complications from the effects of the chemotherapy on the bone marrow.

The procedure for a bone marrow transplant may differ at each treatment center but generally follows a similar path.

  • Blood is removed from either the patient who needs the transplant or from a donor.

○ Autologous transplant uses cells from the patient

○ Allogeneic transplant uses cells from a donor

  • The stem cells (cells that will help the bone marrow make more blood cells) are removed from the blood that was taken, and is frozen and stored until needed.
  • High doses of chemotherapy are given to the patient to kill the cancer and cells in the bone marrow.
  • Whole body radiation may be used to kill these cells as well.
  • The frozen cells are then thawed and infused into the patient.

If cells from a donor are needed, the transplant center will try to find the closest possible match, to help the transplant be successful and decrease the risk of transplant failure. If the match isn’t close, the patient’s immune system can recognize that they are foreign and destroy the healthy cells.

The transplant process may require the patient to stay in the hospital for weeks, for the high dose therapy and then following the transplant for close evaluation of any complications that may develop after transplant.

It may take a few weeks for the new stem cells to “engraft”, or begin working to produce blood cells. Until that happens, transfusions of blood and platelets may be needed frequently to maintain acceptable levels.

If you’ve been diagnosed with AML, talk to your cancer team about the specifics of your cancer. They can help you understand your diagnosis and how best to treat it .  If you or someone you know is considering a bone marrow transplant, it’s important to learn as much as possible about the risks and benefits of the procedure.

We hope this article has helped provide some basic information about bone marrow transplants. For more detailed information, please consult your doctor.


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