Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation

The Abramson Cancer Center has one of the oldest and largest bone marrow and stem cell transplant programs in the county. We have the only such program in the region. During the past thirty years, the Program has performed over 3000 transplants. If bone marrow transplant is needed a hematologist oncologist will coordinate your treatment.

Bone marrow is a soft, sponge-like material inside your bones. Bone marrow contains the stem cells that make the cells that carry oxygen through the body, fight infection, and help blood clot, which protects you from bleeding. Stem cells are the master cells or seeds from which all blood cells develop. Stem cells can be collected from bone marrow, peripheral blood or umbilical cord blood.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplant are procedures that collect and restore stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

The main purpose of stem cell transplant in cancer treatment is to make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. To understand more about why stem cell transplant is used and how it works, it is helpful to understand how chemotherapy and radiation therapy work.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy generally affect cells that divide rapidly. They are used to treat cancer because cancer cells divide more rapidly than most healthy cells.

However, because bone marrow cells also divide rapidly, high-dose treatments can severely damage or destroy the patient's bone marrow. Without healthy bone marrow, the patient is no longer able to make the blood cells needed to carry oxygen, defend against infection, and prevent bleeding.

Stem cell transplant replaces stem cells that were destroyed by treatment. The healthy, transplanted stem cells can restore the bone marrow's ability to produce the blood cells the patient needs.

There are different types of transplants. The type of donor used determines the type of transplant. There are several different types of donors of stem cells:

  • Autologous Transplant: The stem cells are removed from and returned to the same person.
  • Allogeneic Transplant: The stem cells come from another person who has been found to have the same immune system type (HLA-type) as the patient. This person could be related, usually a brother or sister (if this person is an identical twin it is called a syngeneic transplant). The stem cells could also come from an unrelated donor obtained through a bone marrow registry or cord blood registry.

To determine which type of transplant is best for a person, the transplant doctor will take into account many factors including the type of disease, age and the availability of a donor.

To help you understand how we care for patients undergoing a bone marrow or stem cell transplant The Abramson Cancer Center has produced a booklet, About Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant: A Patient Guide.

You can also learn more about bone marrow and stem cell transplant at OncoLink.