Stem cell transplants have been done for many decades, and there have been big improvements over that time. Despite this, stem cell transplantation is still a complex procedure. You will go through many phases during the transplant process, and MSK has a large, integrated healthcare team to care for you every step of the way.
There is a possibility of complications after a transplant. Some may happen right away and others after some time has passed. Our team is concerned with your recovery after your transplant, as well as any complications that may come up over time and, of course, your overall health and well-being.
After having a transplant at MSK, you will have regular follow-up appointments in our survivorship clinic. We will watch your health closely for any late side effects you may have.
What Are Stem Cells?
Blood-forming stem cells are also called bone marrow cells or hematopoietic stem cells. They are immature cells that can become any type of blood cell, including:
- white blood cells, which help the body fight infections
- red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body
- platelets, which are important in blood clotting and help control bleeding
Stem cells are made in the bone marrow. This is a sponge-like tissue that is found mainly inside large bones like the breastbone, pelvis, ribs, and spine. Before a transplant, stem cells can be collected from a person’s bone marrow or from their bloodstream.
How a Stem Cell Transplant Is Done
Before the transplant, you will have chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. This treatment is called the preparative regimen or conditioning. It destroys cancer cells as well as the stem cells in your bone marrow. It also helps your body get ready to accept the new stem cells.
Next, the stem cells are added your bloodstream through a central venous catheter (a flexible tube). This tube goes into your chest and makes it easier for your care team to give you medications and blood products. The transplant is done in your room. It is like having a blood transfusion. No surgery is required. After the procedure, the new transplanted stem cells travel to the bone marrow. There they will grow and develop into new mature blood cells, including red and white blood cells and platelets.
It usually takes several weeks before the level of mature blood cells returns to a healthy number. During this time, you will need extra protection from infections and bleeding.
How a Stem Cell Transplant Affects Fertility
Fertility is important and very personal for many of our patients, both male and female. Our experts can help explain how stem cell transplantation can affect the ability to have and bear children. We will go over the many choices we can offer — both before treatment and during it — to give you the best chance of preserving your fertility.