Bone Marrow Transplantation and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation: Questions and Answers


Key Points

  • Hematopoietic or blood-forming skin over the pelvic (hip) bone or, in rare cases, the sternum (breastbone), and into the bone marrow to draw the marrow out of the bone. Harvesting the marrow takes about an hour.

    The harvested bone marrow is then processed to remove blood and bone fragments. Harvested bone marrow can be combined with a preservative and frozen to keep the stem cells alive until they are needed. This technique is known as cryopreservation. Stem cells can be cryopreserved for many years.

7. How are PBSCs obtained for transplantation?

The stem cells used in PBSCT come from the bloodstream. A process called apheresis or leukapheresis is used to obtain PBSCs for transplantation. For 4 or 5 days before apheresis, the donor may be given a fatigue, antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. They may also give the patient transfusions of platelets to prevent bleeding and red blood cells to treat . Patients who undergo BMT and PBSCT may experience short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, mouth sores, hair loss, and skin reactions.

Potential long-term risks include complications of the pretransplant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, such as infertility (the inability to produce children); cataracts (clouding of the lens of the , which causes loss of vision); secondary (new) cancers; and damage to the liver, , lungs, and/or .

With allogeneic transplants, a complication known as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) sometimes develops. GVHD occurs when white blood cells from the donor (the graft) identify cells in the patient’s body (the host) as foreign and attack them. The most commonly damaged organs are the skin, liver, and . This complication can develop within a few weeks of the transplant (acute GVHD) or much later (chronic GVHD). To prevent this complication, the patient may receive medications that suppress the immune system. Additionally, the donated stem cells can be treated to remove the white blood cells that cause GVHD in a process called “>steroids or other immunosuppressive agents. GVHD can be difficult to treat, but some studies suggest that patients with leukemia who develop GVHD are less likely to have the cancer come back. Clinical trials are being conducted to find ways to prevent and treat GVHD.

The likelihood and severity of complications are specific to the patient’s treatment and should be discussed with the patient’s doctor.

15. What is a “mini-transplant”?

A “mini-transplant” (also called a non-myeloablative or reduced-intensity transplant) is a type of allogeneic transplant. This approach is being studied in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and other cancers of the blood.

A mini-transplant uses lower, less toxic doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation to prepare the patient for an allogeneic transplant. The use of lower doses of anticancer drugs and radiation eliminates some, but not all, of the patient’s bone marrow. It also reduces the number of cancer cells and suppresses the patient’s immune system to prevent rejection of the transplant.

Unlike traditional BMT or PBSCT, cells from both the donor and the patient may exist in the patient’s body for some time after a mini-transplant. Once the cells from the donor begin to engraft, they may cause the graft-versus-tumor (GVT) effect and work to destroy the cancer cells that were not eliminated by the anticancer drugs and/or radiation. To boost the GVT effect, the patient may be given an injection of their donor’s white blood cells. This procedure is called a “donor lymphocyte infusion.”

16. What is a “tandem transplant”?

A “tandem transplant” is a type of autologous transplant. This method is being studied in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma and germ cell cancer. During a tandem transplant, a patient receives two sequential courses of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. Typically, the two courses are given several weeks to several months apart. Researchers hope that this method can prevent the cancer from recurring (coming back) at a later time.

17. How do patients cover the cost of BMT or PBSCT?

Advances in treatment methods, including the use of PBSCT, have reduced the amount of time many patients must spend in the hospital by speeding recovery. This shorter recovery time has brought about a reduction in cost. However, because BMT and PBSCT are complicated technical procedures, they are very expensive. Many health insurance companies cover some of the costs of transplantation for certain types of cancer. Insurers may also cover a portion of the costs if special care is required when the patient returns home.

There are options for relieving the financial burden associated with BMT and PBSCT. A hospital social worker is a valuable resource in planning for these financial needs. Federal Government programs and local service organizations may also be able to help.

The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Cancer Information Service (CIS) can provide patients and their families with additional information about sources of financial assistance (see below).

18. What are the costs of donating bone marrow, PBSCs, or umbilical cord blood?

Persons willing to donate bone marrow or PBSCs must have a sample of blood drawn to determine their HLA type. This blood test usually costs $65 to $96. The donor may be asked to pay for this blood test, or the donor center may cover part of the cost. Community groups and other organizations may also provide financial assistance. Once a donor is identified as a match for a patient, all of the costs pertaining to the retrieval of bone marrow or PBSCs is covered by the patient or the patient’s medical .

A woman can donate her baby’s umbilical cord blood to public cord blood banks at no charge. However, commercial blood banks do charge varying fees to store umbilical cord blood for the private use of the patient or his or her family.

19. Where can people get more information about potential donors and transplant centers?

The National Marrow Donor ProgramĀ® (NMDP), a federally funded nonprofit organization, was created to improve the effectiveness of the search for donors. The NMDP maintains an international registry of volunteers willing to be donors for all sources of blood stem cells used in transplantation: bone marrow, peripheral blood, and umbilical cord blood.

The NMDP Web site contains a list of participating transplant centers at on the Internet. The list includes descriptions of the centers as well as their transplant experience, survival statistics, research interests, pretransplant costs, and contact information.


National Marrow Donor Program


Suite 100
3001 Broadway Street, NE.
Minneapolis, MN 55413-1753


1-800-627-7692 (1-800-MARROW-2)
1-888-999-6743 (Office of Patient Advocacy)


[email protected]

Internet Web site:

20. Where can people get more information about clinical trials of BMT and PBSCT?

Clinical trials that include BMT and PBSCT are a treatment option for some patients. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from NCI’s Cancer Information Service (see below), or from the NCI’s Web site at on the Internet.