A bone marrow transplant, or stem cell transplant, can help drive many serious conditions into remission, particularly blood cancers. This procedure is an effective therapy for hematologic malignancies. Before opting for transplantation, you should have a clear idea of what happens before, during, and after the procedure.
Before the bone marrow transplantation
Prior to the transplant, your doctor will evaluate your overall health by performing physical examinations and suggesting certain laboratory tests:
- Blood tests- The test is used to assess the functioning of your liver and kidneys, and to check the levels of hemoglobin.
- Imaging tests-, such as chest X-rays, CT scans, and MRI: The imaging tests are used to determine abnormalities of your internal organs.
- Biopsy- The test involves removing small pieces of your bone marrow to evaluate the condition.
Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor any questions regarding the risks and benefits of the transplant.
Harvesting the stem cell
Once you’re done with your laboratory tests, your surgeon removes and stores the stem cells for transplantation. The stem cells can be harvested from the following three sources:
Blood: A special machine is used to remove stem cells from your blood.
Bone marrow: This procedure involves surgical removal of a sample of bone marrow from your hip bone.
Cord blood: The stem cells are extracted from the donated blood of placenta and umbilical cord of a newborn baby.
Sometimes, your doctor might prescribe certain medications to boost your stem cells (used for four days) that are required for the transplantation.
Your doctor will recommend you to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy before the transplantation to destroy the existing cancer cells and bone marrow as well as to suppress your immune system (to reduce the risk of transplant rejection). The conditioning treatment lasts about one week where you are given a range of medications before the surgery.
During the transplant
The transplant procedure is performed in a day or two after conditioning treatment. During the procedure, your doctor infuses or injects healthy stem cells into your body through a central line. It may take around one to two hours. The procedure is similar to a blood transfusion.
After the transplant, you may have minor side effects such as nausea and a flushed face. This may occur due to the preservatives used to store stem cells. However, these symptoms may fade off with certain medications.
After the bone marrow transplant
Generally, you can leave the hospital after a bone marrow transplant. However, you need to stay in the hospital for a few weeks if you experience any allergic reactions or if your doctor decides to monitor you closely. You will have daily checkups that involve evaluating your blood cells and detecting infections or complications.
Your body may take several weeks to restore the normal blood count. Your doctor prescribes certain medications such as immune-suppressants after the transplant. Your doctor might refer you to a physical therapist and a dietician after the transplant for an exercise and nutrition plan.
A bone marrow transplant can make you more susceptible to infections; therefore you must stay in a germ-free room. A healthy lifestyle and regular checkups would help your overcome these conditions.
A bone marrow transplant can be a complicated procedure that is physically as well as emotionally taxing. However, if you are well-informed and aware of the details and steps involved in the procedure, you may find yourself having a smoother transition through the different stages of the transplant.