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Stem cell transplants

A stem cell transplant is when you get a transfusion of stem cells into your blood stream so that you can have very high dose chemotherapy treatment.

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What is a stem cell transplant?

A stem cell transplant is when you get a transfusion of stem cells into your blood stream. Stem cells are blood cells at their earliest stage of development that will grow into new healthy blood cells.  

Why are stem cell transplants used?

Stem cell transplants are used so that you can have very high dose chemotherapy treatment. High doses of chemotherapy damage your bone marrow, where new blood cells are made. By giving you healthy stem cells after treatment, your blood can recover. 

Where do the stem cells come from?

Usually the stem cells come from a donor’s blood or bone marrow. This is called and allogeneic transplant.

Sometimes healthy stem cells are removed from your body before treatment and returned to you afterwards. This is called an autologous transplant.

Who is suitable for a stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplants may not be suitable for everyone. It depends on a number of things such as: 

  • Your age and general health
  • Whether a suitable donor is available
  • The type of cancer you have and the risk of it coming back

Where will I have a stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplants take place in special treatment units only. You may spend up to 6 weeks in hospital. For 6-12 months after the transplant you may have to go to hospital very often for check-ups, antibiotics or blood transfusions.

How are allogeneic (donor) transplants done?

In an allogeneic transplant, a patient receives healthy stem cells taken from another person.

You and the donor will have a blood test to see if you have the same tissue type. This means finding out about a group of proteins on the surface of cells called human leukocyte antigen (HLA). If you are HLA compatible it means you and the donor have similar proteins and there is more chance that the transplant will be successful. The donor can be your brother or sister, or even a person not related to you.

Your own bone marrow is first destroyed with high doses of chemotherapy, with or without radiotherapy. Then the healthy marrow or stem cells from the donor are given to you through a central line (drip). The cells then grow over a few weeks to replace the bone marrow that was destroyed.

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