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Diseases that damage the bone marrow so that it cannot produce any healthy blood cells can be treated with a bone marrow transplant (BMT). An important thing to note here is that although it is called a bone marrow transplant procedure, it is not a single surgery but rather an intravenous infusion of healthy blood cells. 

What Is Bone Marrow Transplant? 

A bone marrow transplant procedure, also known as stem cell transplant, is performed to replenish blood cells in the marrow, which will then go on to develop into different blood cell types that are required. 

The procedure is often performed after a round of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, both of which destroy current diseased blood cells in the body. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy before the bone marrow transplant procedure ensures that the bone marrow transplant donor cells aren’t being mixed with diseased cells. 

Who Can Have Bone Marrow Transplant? 

A bone marrow transplant is performed for patients suffering from:

  • Bone marrow failure or severe aplastic anemia
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Myeloma
  • Disorders of the immune system, metabolic system, or blood disorders such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), thalassemia, or sickle cell anemia.

A bone marrow transplant, due to the serious nature of the treatment, is not the first choice of treatment for these conditions. For the procedure to be considered, all other forms of therapies must be tried and exhausted. Furthermore, patients undergoing bone marrow transplants must be physically healthy,

Bone Marrow Transplant Treatment Duration 

The bone marrow transplant procedure is a simple transfusion of donor stem cells via the central line. It is a painless procedure that happens while you are awake. The transplant takes anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours, and you will be able to go home the next day, 

However, given the severity of the treatment procedure, you should remain near the hospital for the coming weeks after the procedure. This is to ensure that proper can be taken in case of a complication or infection. 

Bone Marrow Transplant Side Effects & Risks 

Bone marrow transplant side effects are many, with each patient experiencing a different range of side effects and complications. While some may experience minimal to zero side effects, others may experience life-threatening complications. 

Some of the common side effects of the bone marrow transplant are:

  • Graft vs Host disease
  • Stem cell or graft failure
  • Organ failure
  • Cataract
  • Anemia, bleeding disorders, and easy bruising
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss

It is worth mentioning that fatigue, infertility, and hair loss aren’t the side effects of bone marrow transplants directly but rather of the chemotherapy performed before the transplant. The major complication of stem cell transplant procedure is graft vs host disease.

Bone Marrow Transplant Recovery Time

The bone marrow transplant recovery period lasts for weeks during which you will undergo several blood tests to check for the levels of your blood cells. It can take up to a month for your bone marrow to start producing its own blood cells. Three months to twelve months are required for the immune system to be able to function again. 

Bone Marrow Transplant Success Rate

The bone marrow transplant success rate depends on the different types of bone marrow transplants performed and the reason why the transplant is required. For Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia (AML), the success rate is measured as a 5-year survival rate which was found to be 65%.

A bone marrow transplant for sickle cell anemia has a 90% success rate meaning that there is a 90% chance of cure. 

Bone Marrow Transplant Alternative Treatment:

  • Umbilical cord blood

How Is The Procedure Performed?

For the bone marrow transplant procedure, a central line will be placed in the chest and the rest of the procedure is similar to a blood transfusion. Stem cell transplant is not a surgical procedure and it just includes the infusion of donor cells and plasma into the central line. After the procedure, you may need to be monitored based on your general condition. 

What Does Bone Marrow Transplant Involve?

A bone marrow transplant involves 5 main steps, which are mentioned below:

  • Tests and procedures
  • Harvesting or collecting of stem cells
  • Conditioning
  • Transplant
  • Recovery

To begin, you will need to undergo several tests to assess your general health and your eligibility for the bone marrow transplant procedure. Once that is completed, the decision regarding donor stem cells will need to be made. As in, will the stem cells be harvested from your own body or a donor.

The next step is the harvesting of these stem cells which is then followed by rounds of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This conditioning step is to suppress your immune system and prepare the body for new stem cells. In rare cases, reduced-intensity conditioning may be performed. 

The fourth and fifth steps are the transplant procedure and the recovery from the procedure which can take approximately up to 1 year. 

What Should I Expect After Bone Marrow Transplant

After the bone marrow transplant, you will:

  • Undergo blood tests periodically
  • Require blood transfusions till your own bone marrow can take over
  • Be on immunosuppressive medications
  • Be more likely to catch infections
  • Be on a specific healthy diet to reduce the risk of foodborne infections.

Things You Should Avoid Before Bone Marrow Transplant Treatment

  • Take care of your teeth and avoid cavities
  • Don’t get a piercing or tattoo
  • Avoid smoking and drinking

FAQ

What is the survival rate after a bone marrow transplant?

The survival rate after a BMT depends on the type of BMT and the cause of it. The average survival rate is between 65% to 90%.

What does a bone marrow transplant cost?

A BMT is one of the expensive treatment options, with the average cost of the Bone Marro Transplant is estimated to $193,000. 

How does a bone marrow transplant work?

A BMT requires donor stem cells from you, or a different donor, that will then be transfused to your bloodstream via a central line.

How serious is a bone marrow transplant?

A BMT is a serious procedure that can only be performed when other forms of treatment have failed to be effective.

How painful is a bone marrow transplant?

BMT does not cause pain during the transplant procedure, but there may be slight fever and discomfort after the procedure.

Is bone marrow transplant a major surgery?

Yes, BMT is a major procedure with numerous potential side effects.

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