Bone Marrow Transplant Recovery Takes Years
Physical Recovery Often Comes Before Psychological or Work Recovery
May 18, 2004 -- Full recovery after a bone marrow transplant to
treat leukemia or lymphoma may take years, not months, according to new
The study shows physical recovery often happens long before a
bone marrow transplant recipient bounces back psychologically or is ready to go
back to work. The study showed that the majority of patients took as long as
three to five years to fully recover and return to work.
Researchers say bone marrow transplants are commonly used to
treat cancers of the blood, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Survival rates after the painful procedure have improved
considerably in recent years, which researchers say increases the need to
understand the recovery process better and identify ways to avoid pitfalls or
risks and improve functional recovery.
Bone Marrow Transplant Recovery's a Long Road
In the study, researchers followed 319 bone marrow transplant
recipients who had the procedure to treat leukemia or lymphoma. Of the 99
long-term survivors, 94 remained free of cancer recurrence during the follow-up
of five years.
The results appear in the May 19 issue of The Journal of the
American Medical Association.
The study showed that physical recovery happened much sooner
than psychological recovery or a return to work. Only 19% of the patients had
recovered on all three measures within a year after the transplant. But 63% of
recipients had no major limitations by five years following the procedure.
Among the survivors:
- 84% returned to full-time work within five years.
22% suffered from symptoms of severe depression during
recovery, and 31% had mild depressive symptoms.
Women were more likely to suffer depression, posttreatment
distress, and delay returning to work.
The study also showed that several characteristics of the
patients before the bone marrow transplant were related to how they fared after
- Patients with slower physical recovery had higher medical risk and were
more depressed before the procedure.
Those with lower social support had a slower recovery.
Higher levels of physical impairment before the transplant were
tied to a more difficult physical and emotional recovery after the
People who had more experience with cancer treatment before the
bone marrow transplant recovered faster from depression and treatment-related
"These results are both encouraging and cautionary,"
write researcher Karen L. Syrjala, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research
Center, and colleagues. "Patients, families, and medical teams depend on
accurate recovery data when planning for posttransplant needs.
"Expectations that contradict actual experience cause
stress for survivors and potential conflicts with family, work, and the medical
team," write the researchers. "To facilitate realistic planning,
clinicians and patients should understand that full recovery requires more than
a year for most survivors."