Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

What to Expect From a Stem Cell Transplant

Font Size
A
A
A
By Judith Sachs
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD

Stem cell transplants have become important weapons in the fight against certain blood cancers, such as multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and leukemia. A stem cell transplant may help you live longer. In some cases, it can even cure blood cancers.

About 50,000 transplantations are performed yearly, with the number increasing 10% to 20% each year. More than 20,000 people have now lived five years or longer after having a stem cell transplant.

Recommended Related to Cancer

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Different types of treatments are available for patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment...

Read the Treatment Option Overview article > >

Here's how it works: The stem cells in healthy bone marrow produce blood cells, including the white blood cells that are crucial to your immune system. Blood cancers themselves damage your bone marrow, and so do chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancers. A stem cell transplant lets new stem cells take over from your damaged marrow so your body can produce healthy, cancer-free blood cells.

Your doctor may want to use stem cells taken from your own blood, or stem cells from a donor. If you use your own stem cells, your blood will be drawn when your cancer is not active. If you use a donor's cells, your doctor will first need to find a matching donor. Either way, you will have chemotherapy and/or radiation beforehand. This will kill the cancer cells and destroy your damaged stem cells so the transplanted stem cells can take over.

If you use your own cells, you may be able to have an outpatient stem cell transplant. You need to have no other serious medical conditions, have a caregiver who can monitor you at home, and live within an hour of the hospital. Your home environment must be carefully prepared, and you must wear a mask when going out.

Here's what to expect from the transplant process.

Before the Stem Cell Transplant

  1. You or the donor will get injections of special medicines four or five days before the blood draw. These medicines move blood-forming stem cells from your bone marrow into your bloodstream.
  2. Your blood or the donor's will be drawn. The stem cells from your or the donor's bloodstream will be separated from the rest of the blood and frozen.
  3. You will have "conditioning treatment." This will be either high- or low-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation. Its purpose is to kill the cancer cells and destroy your own stem cells -- destroying your immune system in the process -- so the transplanted stem cells can take over.
1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
A common one in both men and women.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
 
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Do you know the symptoms?
 
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
Blog
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
colorectal cancer treatment advances
Video
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
prostate cancer overview
SLIDESHOW
lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
Actor Michael Douglas
Article