Stem cells produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. In some cases, stem cells in your bone marrow may not be functioning well or need to be destroyed to help treat a disease. If this happens, you will need new stem cells.
It may take about a month for the donor stem cells in the bone marrow to begin to function fully. If the transplant is successful, new bone marrow cells will produce healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Stem cell transplantation may be done using:
This procedure is done if the stem cells in your bone marrow are not functioning or are deficient. This may be caused by:
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a stem cell transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Possible complications for the donor include:
Stem cell transplant is usually avoided if you have:
Be sure to discuss the risks with your doctor before the transplant.
The donor will be carefully tested to check for diseases. Both you and the donor will be tested to ensure that your tissues are compatible. In order for the transplant to be successful, certain markers on the blood cells and bone marrow cells must match.
As the recipient, you will be given medication to suppress your immune system. This is to prevent your body from rejecting the donor stem cells. In the weeks prior to the transplant, you may need to have:
This process is called conditioning. It will rid the body of diseased cells and clear the bone marrow cavities for the new bone marrow.
If the stem cells will be from the donor's bone marrow, an area of the donor's hip will be cleaned. A hollow needle and syringe will be used to remove the bone marrow. The doctor will make several small punctures. This is to harvest enough bone marrow for the transplant (1-2 quarts). Lastly, the wounds will be covered with bandages.
If the stem cells will be from the donor's blood, the doctor will stick a needle in the donor's large vein or veins in the arms. A machine will receive blood from the vein. This machine will spin the blood so that the stem cells are concentrated. The rest of the blood will be given back to the donor. The puncture wounds will be covered with bandages. This procedure may require more than one blood donation. The donor may also be required to take pills that cause more stem cells from the bone marrow to go into the blood.
The donated stem cells will be filtered. The cells will be administered into one of your large veins through a small, flexible tube, called a catheter.
The donor will recover quickly. You, the recipient, will need to be placed in isolation. This is to avoid infection until the new stem cells in the bone marrow begin to produce infection-fighting cells.
The donor may receive:
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Be the Match—National Marrow Donor Program
Canadian Association of Transplantation
Canadian Blood Services
Blood-forming stem cell tranplants. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/stem-cell-transplant/stem-cell-fact-sheet. Updated September 24, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2013.
Stem cell transplant for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/bonemarrowandperipheralbloodstemcelltransplant/index. Accessed June 24, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.