Bone marrow is soft, sponge-like tissue that’s inside your bones. Stem cells, which are a type of blood cell that makes other blood cells, are stored inside it.

With a bone marrow transplant, you get healthy stem cells to replace your own bone marrow that’s either diseased or damaged. The stems cells may come from your own body or from someone who donates them to you.

What is a bone marrow transplant used for?

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, then replace the damaged bone marrow.

It can be used to treat several diseases and conditions:

  • Leukemia: A type of cancer that happens in your blood cells.
  • Lymphoma: A kind of cancer that happens in part of your immune system called the lymph system. 
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia: A type of cancer that causes your bone marrow to make blood cells that don’t work the way they should. It’s the most common type of cancer in children, but adults can get it, too.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: A kind of cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. It happens most often in older adults.
  • Multiple myeloma: A type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells found in your bone marrow.
  • Aplastic anemia: A condition that happens when your bone marrow can’t make enough new blood cells.
  • Primary immunodeficiency: A disorder you’re born with that affects your immune system and makes you more likely to get infections.
  • Adrenoleukodystrophy: A genetic condition that damages the tissue around the nerve cells in your brain.
  • Hemoglobinopathies: A group of genetic disorders that affect red blood cells. They include sickle cell disease.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome: A group of disorders that happen when there’s a problem in your bone marrow and blood cells don’t work the way they should.
  • Neuroblastoma: A type of cancer that starts in nerve cells in certain areas of your body, like your adrenal glands, chest, abdomen, and neck. It most often affects young children.
  • POEMS syndrome: A blood disorder that damages nerves and affects other parts of your body.
  • Amyloidosis: A rare disease in which an abnormal protein is made in your bone marrow and builds up in your organs and tissues.

Are you a candidate for a bone marrow transplant?

Your doctor will think about many different things when deciding if a bone marrow transplant might be the best treatment for you. These include how likely the transplant is to work, along with your age and overall health. For example, your doctor will check that your kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart are healthy enough for the procedure.

Most people who get a bone marrow transplant are under 70, but there’s no specific age cutoff.

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