Bone Marrow Transplant Recovery Takes Years

Physical Recovery Often Comes Before Psychological or Work Recovery

From the WebMD Archives

May 18, 2004 -- Full recovery after a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia or lymphoma may take years, not months, according to new research.

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 the procedure:

  • 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 procedure.

  • People who had more experience with cancer treatment before the bone marrow transplant recovered faster from depression and treatment-related distress.

"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."

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 18, 2004


SOURCE: Syrjala, K. The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 19, 2004; vol 291: pp 2335-2343.

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