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Bone Marrow Transplants and Stem Cell Transplants for Cancer Treatment

What Are the Risks of Stem Cell Transplant for Cancer Treatment?

The main risks come from the chemotherapy and radiation treatment before the stem cell transplant. When they destroy the bone marrow, the body is at risk of infection and uncontrolled bleeding. Even a common cold or the flu can be quite dangerous.

It can take some time before your blood counts are back to normal. In the short term, stem cell transplants can cause side effects like nausea,fatigue, hair loss, and mouth sores. Some types of chemotherapy and radiation can also cause, infertility, organ damage, and an increased risk of new cancers.

Some people who get stem cells from a donor develop graft-versus-host disease -- the blood cells produced by the new bone marrow mistakenly attack healthy cells in your body. This can cause potentially life-threatening damage to the organs. To prevent it, some people need to take drugs that suppress the immune system.

In other cases, the stem cell transplant just doesn’t work. The new stem cells die or are killed by your body’s remaining immune cells.

If you’re considering a stem cell transplant for cancer treatment, have a long talk with your health care providers. Make sure you understand all of the potential risks.

Will My Insurance Provider Cover My Stem Cell Transplant or Bone Marrow Transplant?

Don’t assume that your insurance company will cover all - or any - of the costs of a stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant. Many insurers require pre-certification letters of medical necessity.

So if you’re even considering a stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant, contact your insurer now and get the details. Make sure you completely understand your coverage. You might also be able to get financial help from local or federal programs. Talk to your doctor or a hospital social worker about your options.

Deciding on a Stem Cell Transplant for Cancer Treatment

Is a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant the right treatment for you? It’s not an easy decision to make. Remember, many of these procedures are still experimental and should be done on a clinical trial basis.  It’s tough to weigh the potential benefits with the serious risks - not to mention the disruption to your life and the lives of your family members. 

But when you’re feeling anxious, remember that tens of thousands of people have had stem cell transplants or bone marrow transplants for cancer treatment. These techniques are constantly being improved and refined, and they’re more effective now than ever before.

Try to remain confident, and take on an active role in your treatment. Do some research into various stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplantation techniques. Ask your doctors specific questions, especially if you are participating in a clinical trial. Get support from your family, and make sure they understand what getting a transplant will mean for them. The better you understand your options, the more confident you’ll be when you make your decision.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 25, 2012

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