Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD)

Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD)

Dermatologist Alina Markova and hematologic oncologist Doris Ponce work at a computer showcasing GVHD cells together.

Dermatologist Alina Markova (left) and hematologic oncologist Doris Ponce specialize in treating people with graft-versus-host disease.

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a complication that can occur after a stem cell or bone marrow transplant (BMT) that uses donor cells. This type of transplant is called an allogeneic transplant.

“Graft” refers to the marrow or stem cells from a donor. “Host” refers to the person who gets the transplant.

What causes graft-versus-host disease?

GVHD happens when donor immune cells identify the host’s tissue as foreign and begin to attack it.

What parts of the body can be affected by graft-versus-host disease?

GVHD can affect many parts of the body, including the eyes, skin, and mouth, as well as the gastrointestinal tract (gut), liver, and lungs. GVHD is one of the most serious complications of an allogeneic BMT.

GVHD can be acute, occurring early in the post-transplant period. However, acute GVHD can occur at a later time as well.

GVHD can also be chronic. Chronic GVHD can happen as early as two to three months after a transplant, but also may occur months to years later. It can continue to come back for several years.

Between one-third and two-thirds of all people who have an allogeneic transplant will eventually develop some symptoms of GVHD.

If you are experiencing symptoms that you think could be GVHD, contact the office of one of our doctors to schedule an appointment.

People are more likely to develop GVHD if their donor was not a perfect match or not related to them, if their donor is older, or if their donor has been pregnant.

Not all of the effects of GVHD are bad. People with GVHD are also more likely to experience the graft-versus-tumor effect. This is when the immune cells from the donor attack the remaining cancer cells in the body. For this reason, people who have a history of GVHD may have lower rates of the cancer coming back.

GVHD is diagnosed based on symptoms, as well as the results of laboratory tests and a tissue sample or biopsy.

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