Stem Cell Transplants: What to Know

Stem Cell Transplants: What to Know

Approximately every four minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer or disorder such as leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma or myelodysplastic syndromes.

Stem cell transplantation¬†— which replaces diseased or damage stems cells in the patient’s bone marrow with healthy ones — is commonly used to treat various forms of blood cancers and disorders and is one of the most important medical advances in the last 50 years.

It is important for people with blood cancers and disorders to be aware of the two major types of stem cell transplants — autologous and allogeneic — and to know which type of transplant may be right for them.

“When people hear the words ‘stem cell transplant,’ there is a tendency to think about organizing local bone marrow drives to find a suitable donor if a relative is not a match. However, not everyone who could benefit from a stem cell transplant needs a donor,” said Parameswaran Hari, MD, MS, Section Head and Director, Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, and Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “In fact, the majority of stem cell transplants performed in the U.S. are done in patients using their own stem cells. We want to arm potential recipients with the facts so they can have an informed discussion with their physician should the need for a transplant arise.”

Autologous vs. Allogeneic

While both types of stem cell transplants involve infusing healthy stem cells into the patient, the chosen type of transplant depends on the type of blood cancer, the health of the patient’s own marrow, the extent of bone marrow injury caused by prior chemotherapy treatments and the overall health of the patient.

In an autologous transplant, a person receives his or her stem cells, and it’s usually performed so higher doses of chemotherapy can be given to treat blood cancers like multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and amyloidosis.

In an allogeneic transplant, a person receives healthy stem cells from a well-matched donor to replace their own stem cells that have been damaged by disease such as myelodysplastic syndromes.

What are Stem Cells and What Is a Stem Cell Transplant?

The stem cells used in treatment of blood cancers are called hematopoietic or blood forming stem cells. They are located in the bone marrow and mature into either red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets which then migrate into the blood stream. A hematopoietic stem cell transplant is a procedure that collects and stores cells taken from the patient or a closely matched donor. Subsequently, these cells are used to replace damaged stem cells due to disease or cancer treatment. During the transplant, stem cells are infused into the patient’s blood stream and subsequently migrate back into the bone marrow, where they recover and continue to mature into healthy blood cells.

Patients should speak with their physicians to determine whether they are a candidate for a stem cell transplant and to determine which type of transplant may be right for them. Patients and their families can learn more about these procedures by visiting


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