Bone marrow transplants
This page tells you about bone marrow transplants. There is information about
Bone marrow transplant is a way of giving very high dose chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy, to try to cure some types of cancer, including leukaemia. Because you can have higher doses of treatment, there may be a better chance of curing the cancer than with standard treatment.
The bone marrow is the spongy substance inside your bones which makes all your blood cells. High doses of chemotherapy drugs kill off your bone marrow. This means you can't make any blood cells. So doctors can take bone marrow from a donor or from you before you have the chemotherapy. They freeze the bone marrow. This is called a bone marrow harvest.
After you have had the high dose chemotherapy and perhaps radiotherapy, you have your donor's or your own healthy bone marrow into your bloodstream through a drip. The bone marrow cells find their own way back to your bone marrow. Then you can make the blood cells you need again. You may hear this treatment called a bone marrow rescue. This is because bone marrow is given back to you to rescue you from the effects of your high doses of chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy.
A transplant using donated bone marrow is called an allograft. A transplant using your own marrow is called an autologous transplant. Autologous bone marrow transplants are not often used now.
Stem cell transplants are used much more commonly than bone marrow transplant these days. You can find information about stem cell transplants in this section.
The donated bone marrow needs to closely match your own. A brother or sister is most likely to be a close match. Sometimes, if you don't have a brother or sister (a sibling donor) who is a match, you can have marrow from a matched donor who is not related to you. There is information about how bone marrow is matched in the question and answer section.
Before your bone marrow is taken you will have a general anaesthetic. To remove the marrow, the doctor puts a needle through the skin into the hip bone (pelvis). The bone marrow is sucked out through the needle into a syringe. To get enough marrow, the doctor usually has to put the needle into several different parts of the pelvis. Occasionally, the doctor uses the chest bone (sternum) as well. You will have about two pints (one litre) of bone marrow removed. The marrow is then frozen until it is needed.
When you wake up, you will have up to 6 puncture sites covered with plasters. You will feel a bit sore and bruised. This can last for up to a week. Your doctor or nurse will give you some painkillers to take.
You usually have to stay in hospital for 1 to 2 nights for a bone marrow harvest. This is to make sure you have recovered from the anaesthetic. You may also need a blood transfusion.
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