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BMT Patient Handbook

Understanding Blood and Marrow Transplant

To understand the process of blood and bone marrow transplant, it is necessary to understand the functions of bone marrow and blood and how those functions can go wrong.

What is bone marrow and what does it do?

Bone marrow is the spongy material inside our bones. Blood cells develop from specific cells in the bone marrow called "stem cells." Stem cells are not mature. They have the capacity to develop into different types of mature blood cells. Each mature cell type has a particular function:

  • Platelets help blood clot, which helps control bleeding.
  • Red blood cells carry oxygen to our tissues.
  • White blood cells help our body fight infection.

Bone marrow makes new blood cells and sends them into our blood as old cells die. This is a continuous process that allows our blood to have cells whenever it needs them.

What happens in blood cancers?
In blood cancers, the normal process of blood cell production goes wrong. For instance, in leukemia, white blood cells divide faster and remain in the circulation longer, disrupting the normal balance of blood cells. This creates a greater amount of abnormal white blood cells in the blood, which makes it harder for red blood cells and platelets to function.

What is a stem cell transplant?
A stem cell transplant, also referred to as a blood or bone marrow transplant, is a transfusion of healthy blood stem cells that have been collected from the patient or a donor. A transplant is used to replace defective or cancerous cells in a patient.

The blood stem cells a patient will receive may be collected from the blood or right from the bone marrow. You may hear the transplant referred to as a "stem cell transplant," "blood transplant," or "bone marrow transplant."

Types of Stem Cell Transplants

There are a few main types of stem cell transplants performed at Huntsman Cancer Institute. The type of stem cell transplant that is most appropriate for you depends on your diagnosis, age, physical condition, and other factors.

  • Autologous
    Autologous stem cell transplant is a procedure where a patient's own healthy bone marrow stem cells are collected before high-dose chemotherapy and then given back after the treatment.
  • Allogeneic
    An allogeneic stem cell transplant is a procedure where the stem cells are taken from another individual who is genetically similar or matched to the patient.

Leukemia
Leukemia occurs when the bone marrow makes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells.

Hodgkin Lymphoma
Hodgkin lymphoma is cancer that begins in cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. This type of cancer is also called Hodgkin's disease or Hodgkin lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a group of cancers that begin in white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Multiple Myeloma
Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, which are white blood cells that produce antibodies to help fight infection.

Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant
Pediatric stem cell transplants are performed at Primary Children's Hospital.

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