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What's Involved in a Bone Marrow and Blood Stem Cell Transplant?

In a blood or bone marrow transplant (BMT), immature blood cells are collected either from the patient or someone with matching blood chemistry and are infused into the patient's blood stream following intensive chemotherapy.

Because chemotherapy usually kills the blood-producing bone marrow as well as the cancer cells, stem cells are transplanted to allow the bone marrow to regrow and start producing cancer-free blood cells again.

Watch our 15-minute, which explains the blood stem cell transplantation process through the experience of an actual patient, Amelia.

What steps are involved in having a blood and marrow transplant?

The first thing to understand is that there are two different types of transplants. Your physician will recommend the best type of transplant for you, depending on your disease and treatment goals.

  • An Autologous Transplant is when you donate and receive back your own cells.
  • An Allogeneic Transplant is when you receive stem cells from another person. A stem cell donor may be your brother, sister, or even someone unrelated. Your donor needs to have similar tissue typing to you.
  1. Initial consult
    You will visit the Norris Cotton Cancer Center to meet with members of your treatment team, including the physician, nurse practitioner, and nurse coordinator. We encourage you to ask a lot of questions. We want to make sure BMT is your best treatment option.
  2. Patient evaluation
    This step may involve chemotherapy and an evaluation of how your cancer is responding to therapy. At this point we may also do lab work and test your heart and lungs to ensure it is safe for you to move forward to transplant.
  3. Collection of cells
    Stem cells can be gathered from two different sources. If you are undergoing an autologous transplant, we will collect your cells. If you are undergoing an allogeneic transplant, we will collect cells from a donor.
  4. The transplant
    First, we give you a treatment regimen that may consist of high-dose or low-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Next, we give you the stem cells collected earlier. They will be infused through a central venous catheter. Once in your blood stream, the transplanted cells make their way into the bone marrow. Here they will make new blood cells. Until you grow a lot of new blood cells, your body may have trouble fighting off illnesses. A transplant weakens your body's natural defenses.
  5. Post-transplant
    During your post-transplant visits, we evaluate your response to the treatment and monitor your health status. Generally, evaluations are done at the following times after the transplant:
    • 100 days
    • 6 months
    • 1 year
    • 18 months
    • Annually after 18 months

Download our booklet (PDF) to get a sense of what it is like to undergo a transplant at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

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