A bone marrow transplant is used to treat many types of cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma. High-dose chemotherapy works better than standard dose to kill cancer cells, but it also wipes out bone marrow. A bone marrow transplant lets doctors use high-dose chemo to try to cure the cancer and then replace the damaged bone marrow.  

It can be an important part of your treatment, but it’s a major procedure. You’ll want to think about a few things before deciding if it’s right for you.

Side Effects and Possible Issues

Many people have only mild side effects from a bone marrow transplant, but some serious issues are possible:

  • New cells don’t take hold, or graft
  • Graft-versus-host disease (if you use donated cells)
  • Infections
  • Infertility
  • New types of cancer
  • Organ damage
  • Early menopause

Some people have a reaction to the preservatives used in the new cells. This can cause headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, or a bad taste in your mouth.

Caregiving

The procedure -- including preparation and recovery -- can be a long process. You’ll need to take time away from work, caring for your family, and regular activities, especially after the transplant, when your immune system will be very weak.

Think about who can be there to help you as you recover. You’ll need someone like a family member or friend for a while, and maybe other people close to you can help out from time to time as well.

Before your transplant, make a plan for child care, housework, grocery shopping, rides to the doctor, or anything else you may not be able to do on your own for a few weeks.

You’ll need to stay near the hospital for about 3 months so your doctor can watch for any issues like infections. And if there are any problems, it’s good to be near the hospital for treatment.

You’ll also need blood tests for several weeks to see how well the treatment is working. You may also need regular blood transfusions until your own bone marrow can make healthy blood cells.

If you don’t live close to the hospital, your hospital’s social workers may be able to help you find housing.

Infertility

A bone marrow transplant can affect the ability to have children in both men and women. That’s because it can destroy some healthy cells in your reproductive organs.

If you think you’ll want to have children, you can take steps to prepare. Before radiation or chemotherapy, men can go to a clinic to collect, freeze, and bank their sperm for later.

Women may go into menopause after a transplant. Before treatment, it’s a good idea to see an infertility specialist to talk about options.

For example, women might be able to harvest and freeze eggs for a later pregnancy, or they might try to conceive and freeze an embryo.

Costs and Insurance

A bone marrow transplant is a long and complicated cancer treatment. Here are some questions to ask your insurance company as you decide about your treatment:

  • Does my policy cover a bone marrow transplant at my hospital?
  • What part(s) of it would be covered by my policy?
  • Are prescription drugs used before and afterward covered?
  • Will I have out-of-pocket expenses?
  • Do I need to get my doctor to sign anything before certain tests or procedures?

Think about the costs for short-term housing, transportation, help with child care, or anything else you might need. Your hospital may have a financial counselor who can help.

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