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Having a transplant

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This page tells you about what happens when you have a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Having a stem cell or bone marrow transplant

Stem cell and bone marrow transplants are a way of giving very high doses of chemotherapy. Sometimes you also have whole body radiotherapy (total body irradiation). The high dose treatment kills off the cancer cells in the body but also kills the stem cells that make blood cells in the bone marrow. So after the high dose treatment, you have the stem cells or bone marrow replaced.

You usually have the high dose chemotherapy over about 5 or 6 days, sometimes less. If you are going to have whole body radiotherapy, you may have it at the beginning or end of the chemotherapy. You have the high dose chemotherapy through a long, flexible tube called a central line that goes into a large vein in the centre of your chest. You can have other drugs through the central line too and you can have blood samples taken from it. The central line can stay in your vein for many months.

After the high dose chemotherapy

After the high dose chemotherapy, you have a drip of stem cells or bone marrow back through the central line. These cells flow into your bloodstream and find their way back into your bone marrow and start to grow there. Soon they start to make new blood cells.

Until your bone marrow starts making enough blood cells you are at risk of infections. So you may be moved into a single room (isolation). You will stay in the single room until your bone marrow is making enough blood cells to protect you from infection. This may take a few weeks. In the isolation room you can have visitors. But your friends and relatives should not come to see you if they are unwell or have been in contact with anyone with an infectious illness.

Sometimes the hospital may treat you as an outpatient straight after your bone marrow or stem cell transplant. You need to go to the hospital daily for blood tests and treatment. But you only have to stay in the hospital if you develop complications.

Coping with isolation

Staying in a single room in hospital can feel lonely. Some people find it frightening. It can help to talk to the nurses about your worries. They can reassure you. Taking in some of your personal things can make the room feel more homely, such as books, photographs and an ornament or two. You can also take in a mobile phone, laptop, electronic tablet or music player to make the time pass more enjoyably and keep in touch with friends and family.
 

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What stem cell and bone marrow transplants are

Stem cell and bone marrow transplants are a way of giving very high doses of chemotherapy. Sometimes you also have whole body radiotherapy (total body irradiation). The high dose treatment kills off the cancer cells in the body but also kills the stem cells that make blood cells in the bone marrow. We need stem cells in order to survive. So after the high dose treatment, you have stem cells or bone marrow through a drip into your bloodstream. These cells make their way into your bone marrow and start to make blood cells again. 

 

Having high dose treatment

You usually have the high dose chemotherapy over about 5 or 6 days, sometimes less. If you are going to have whole body radiotherapy, you may have it at the beginning or end of the chemotherapy.

You have the high dose chemotherapy through a central line. Central lines usually go into your body in the centre of your chest. Then they run up under your skin to a large vein close to your collarbone. The only bit you can see is the length of line that hangs out of the small entry hole in your chest.

You can have other drugs through the central line too, for example anti sickness medicines. And your nurses can take blood samples from the line.

This is a picture of a central line in place.

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The central line can stay in your vein for many months.

 

Having stem cells or bone marrow

After you have finished all your treatment, you have your stem cells or bone marrow back through a drip. This is just like having a blood transfusion. The cells flow through your central line into your bloodstream. They then find their way back into your bone marrow. Soon they start to make new blood cells and release them into your bloodstream. You will have regular blood tests to check when your bone marrow starts to make new blood cells.

Person having a transplant

 

Being in isolation

Until your bone marrow starts making enough blood cells you are at risk of picking up infections. So you may be moved into a single room in the hospital ward to help protect you. You will stay in this room until your blood counts have come up. This may take a few weeks.

Some centres don't isolate patients having their own marrow or stem cells (autologous transplants) because the risk of infection is relatively low. But patients having donated marrow (allogenic transplants) will often have their own room.

While you are in isolation you can have visitors, but your nurses may suggest that you only see one or two each day. Your friends and relatives should not come to see you if they are unwell, or think they have been in contact with anyone with an infectious disease.

In certain circumstances, some treatment centres treat you as an outpatient straight after your bone marrow or stem cell transplant. You need to attend the hospital daily for blood tests and treatment. But you only have to stay in the hospital if you develop complications. Outpatient transplant treatment is becoming more common.

 

Coping with isolation

Staying in a single room in hospital can feel lonely. Some people find it frightening. It can help to talk to the nurses about your worries. They can reassure you.

Taking in some of your personal things can make the room feel more homely. Books, photographs and an ornament or two can brighten it up. You can also take in a mobile phone, laptop, electronic tablet or music player to make the time pass more enjoyably and keep in touch with friends and family.

 

More information about chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Look at the main chemotherapy section and main radiotherapy section for more information about these treatments. There is more information about being in isolation and the risk of infection in this section.

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Updated: 17 March 2015