When you are diagnosed with a serious illness, it’s helpful to learn about the disease and treatment options. This can help you talk with your doctor and make a treatment plan together.
A bone marrow transplant or umbilical cord blood transplant (also called a BMT) replaces diseased blood-forming cells (also called stem cells) with healthy cells.
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Diseases that may be treated with a bone marrow or cord blood transplant include:
To learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for these and other diseases, see Learning About Your Disease.
Your doctor will decide what type of transplant is best for you:
For an autologous transplant, the healthy cells for a transplant can come from 1 of 2 sources:
For an allogeneic transplant, the healthy cells for a transplant can come from 1 of 3 sources:
If you need a transplant, your doctor will choose the best source of the cells for you. Your doctor makes this decision based on your disease, other treatments you have had, and your overall health.
A bone marrow or cord blood transplant is a long process with many steps.
Autologous Transplant: Your own blood forming cells are collected from the circulating blood (peripheral blood stem cells) or marrow. Most patients use PBSC for an autologous transplant. But your doctor will decide which is best for you.
Allogeneic Transplant: Your doctor will look for a marrow donor or cord blood unit that matches your HLA type. HLA stands for human leukocyte antigen. This is a marker your body uses to know which cells belong in your body and which don’t.
If you don’t have a donor in your family, your doctor will search for an unrelated donor or cord blood unit through the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units.
NMDP/Be The Match has agreements with its global partners to provide access to over 21.5 million potential marrow donors and 480,000 cord blood units through the NMDP potential potential marrow donor and cord blood unit lists within its search system. An additional 12 million potential marrow donors and nearly 300,000 cord blood units can be viewed as international sources within an NMDP/Be The Match search.
Before your body can receive the new cells, you get chemotherapy, with or without radiation. The treatment is called a preparative, or conditioning, regimen. The preparative regimen destroys the diseased cells and makes space in your body for the new cells to go.
On transplant day, the cells are put into your body through an intravenous (IV) catheter. The cells move into the spaces inside your bones where they grow and make new blood cells. They make healthy new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Recovery after transplant can last weeks to months. You may need to stay in the hospital or near the transplant center for the first 100 days after transplant. Then you may need more time for recovery at home. Throughout your recovery, doctors, nurses and social workers closely care for you to prevent and treat any side effects or complications.
For more information about chemotherapy and radiation, see The Transplant Process.
For more about the search process, HLA matching, and steps of a transplant, such as evaluating your health before transplant, the preparative regimen, receiving your new cells, and recovery, see Find a Donor
Your doctor recommends your treatment based on several factors, including the status of your disease and your health. Different treatments are better at different times for each disease.
Your doctor also looks at your overall health and risk factors. These things can change over time too.
Your doctor will consider both your disease status and your current health when deciding on a treatment method. In general, transplant works better when:
If you have a disease that may be treated with a bone marrow or cord blood transplant, talk to your doctor. Ask questions about your disease, your risk factors, and treatment options. Every question you have is important.
Some questions you may want to ask your doctor about treatment options are:
Questions specific to a bone marrow or cord blood transplant might include:
For more questions and topics to discuss with your doctor, see: