Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Complications of Stem Cell Transplants

By Judith Sachs
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD

Having a stem-cell transplant is a major challenge for your body. As you recover in the first weeks and months, you are likely to feel fatigued and weak. Certain side effects, like flu-like symptoms, nausea, and a changed sense of taste, are common. Try to be patient: You're building a brand-new immune system, and this takes time. Your doctors will monitor you closely and give you medications to prevent problems.

Along with these typical side effects, you may experience complications. Some come from the high-dose chemotherapy and radiation that may be part of the transplant process. (These may be less likely if you have had a "mini-transplant" with low-dose chemotherapy and radiation.) Other complications are caused by your body's attempts to reject donor stem cells.

Recommended Related to Cancer

What is prevention?

Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by cancer. To prevent new cancers from starting, scientists look at risk factors and protective factors. Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective...

Read the What is prevention? article > >

Complications From Transplants Using Your Own Stem Cells

The most common complications are:

Less often, some patients experience cataracts, infertility (if total-body radiation is given), and new, secondary cancers, sometimes as long as a decade after the original cancer.

There are many ways your doctor can help you with these complications. Antibiotics, antifungal medications, and antiviral medications can help prevent and treat bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Growth factor drugs will speed the development of your new immune system, and transfusions may prevent or treat bleeding and anemia.

Complications From Transplants Using Donor Stem Cells

The most frequent complication is called graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). It develops when blood cells formed from the donor's stem cells think your cells are foreign and attack them. Between 30% and 70% of patients with a donor stem cell transplant get some form of GvHD. It may be mild, serious, or even life threatening.

The symptoms of GvHD include:

The chances of graft-versus-host disease increase when you and the donor are not closely matched. Having extensive chemotherapy and/or radiation before the transplant also raises risk. To prevent and treat GvHD, you may need a combination of antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral drugs, as well as steroids and other therapies to lessen the immune response. Drugs used to prevent and treat graft-versus-host syndrome include anti-thymocyte globulin, cyclosporine, methotrexate, sirolimus, tacrolimus, and in some cases, even rituximab.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas