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6 FAQs about Bone Marrow Transplants

Read Time: 3 minutes

Doctor checks in on a patient in the hospital

Bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant is a cancer treatment for people with blood cancers, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases that affect the bone marrow.

What is bone marrow and what is a bone marrow transplant?

Bone marrow is a spongy tissue inside your bones that makes blood cells. A bone marrow transplant is a procedure to replace the blood-forming cells (stem cells). First, the patient receives chemotherapy, radiation, or both, to kill cancer cells and healthy cells in the bone marrow. Then, the patient receives new stem cells through an IV. The new stem cells make healthy blood cells.

What is the difference between a bone marrow transplant and stem cell transplant?

The only difference between a bone marrow transplant and a stem cell transplant is where the transplanted stem cells come from. Stem cells form in bone marrow, but some of those cells go into the blood stream. If the stem cells for the transplant come from bone marrow, the treatment is called a bone marrow transplant. If the stem cells come from the bloodstream, the treatment is called a peripheral blood stem cell transplant, or stem cell transplant for short.

Are there different types of bone marrow transplants?

These are the two types of bone marrow transplants:

  • Autologous: The transplant team collects and saves the patient’s own healthy stem cells. After treatment, the patients gets the healthy stem cells back.
  • Allogeneic: The patient gets stem cells from a donor. The donor can be a family member, friend, or stranger. The donor’s blood must match the patient’s blood.

Is a bone marrow transplant the best treatment option for me?

This depends on your disease and on what you want. Your doctor can guide you, but you make the final decision. Talk through all treatment options with your doctor to figure out what is best for you. Write down questions and concerns about the bone marrow transplant and bring a list to the next doctor’s appointment. Here is a list of questions to ask your doctor if you or a family member are thinking about this treatment.

How long will I need to stay in the hospital after I receive a bone marrow transplant?

Patients stay at the hospital anywhere from 30–100 days after they receive their transplant. The recovery time differs, depending on these things:

  • The type of transplant
  • How the body reacts to the transplant
  • Whether any other illnesses happen after the transplant

Before treatment, the patient’s doctor can give an idea of how long the stay may be. But that may change after the transplant.

I have a family member who needs a bone marrow transplant. How can I find out if I am a match?

You will need to be tested to see if you are a match. Talk with your family member and their doctor about getting tested.

Even if you don’t have a family member who needs a bone marrow transplant, you can sign up to be a potential donor. Huntsman Cancer Institute uses the Be The Match registry to find donors for patients who need a bone marrow transplant.

Learn more about blood and marrow transplant at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Cancer touches all of us.