A bone marrow transplant is a procedure that transplants healthy bone marrow into a patient whose bone marrow is not working properly. A bone marrow transplant may be done for various forms of cancer, most commonly leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. A bone marrow transplant can also be done for many other conditions including hereditary blood diseases, hereditary metabolic diseases and hereditary immune deficiencies.
What is Bone Marrow?
Bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue inside your bones. Stem cells are immature cells in the bone marrow. Some stem cells grow into different parts of your blood. These parts are:
- Red blood cells (which carry oxygen to your tissues)
- White blood cells (which fight infection)
- Platelets (which help your blood clot)
In a bone marrow transplant, you will receive healthy stem cells after your own bone marrow has been destroyed.
Types of Bone Marrow Transplants
There are three kinds of bone marrow transplants:
- Autologous bone marrow transplant. "Auto" means "self." Stem cells are taken from the patient before the patient gets chemotherapy or radiation treatment. When chemotherapy or radiation is done, the patient gets their stem cells back. This is called a "rescue" transplant.
- Allogeneic bone marrow transplant. "Allo" means "other." Stem cells come from another person, who is called a donor. Donor stem cells come from the donor’s bone marrow or their blood. Most times, a donor must have the same genetic typing as the patient, so that their blood "matches" the patient’s. Special blood tests will tell whether a possible donor is a good match for the patient. A patient’s brothers and sisters have the highest chance of being a good match, but sometimes parents and children of the patient and other relatives may be matches. Donors who are not related to the patient may be found through national bone marrow registries. These are lists of people who have offered to be donors.
- Umbilical cord blood transplant. Stem cells are taken from an umbilical cord right after delivery of an infant. The stem cells are tested, typed, counted, and frozen until they are needed for a transplant.
How well you do after a bone marrow transplant greatly depends on many factors, including:
- What type of bone marrow transplant you had
- How well your donor’s cells match yours
- What type of cancer or illness you have
- Your age and overall health
- What type of chemotherapy or radiation therapy you had before your transplant
- What kind of complications happened after the transplant
- Your genetic make-up
Possible results of a bone marrow transplant are complete cure of the illness being treated, a partial cure, or death. Death may be caused by complications of the bone marrow transplant or because the transplant did not work to treat the illness.
If the transplant works, you can go back to most of your normal activities as soon as you feel well enough. Most times it takes up to 12 months to recover fully.