What You Need To Know About Bone Marrow Transplant
Most people associate bone marrow transplant with cancer treatment, however, this procedure can be used in the treatment of several other conditions including aplastic and sickle cell anaemia, anaemia, congenital neutropenia and thalassemia, among other conditions.
Understanding Bone Marrow Transplant
Bone marrow transplant is “simply” the replacement of damaged bone marrow with new bone marrow from a donor or from your own bone marrow. It may sound simple, but it is an involving and long process that requires great expertise.
Bone marrow is the spongy, fatty tissue found inside the bones which helps in the formation of;
- White blood cells that help the body to fight infection,
- Red blood cells that are important in the transportation of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and
- Platelets which are responsible for blood clotting.
That should explain just why bone marrow transplant is important for those whose bone marrow is destroyed either by disease, infection or chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
How is bone marrow transplant performed?
Bone marrow transplant, also referred to as stem cell transplant, is a long and complicated process that as stated earlier in this article, requires a great level of proficiency.
You would need a bone marrow transplant if:
- You have sickle cell or aplastic anaemia,
- You have certain cancers like leukaemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma,
- Your bone marrow has been damaged due to chemotherapy,
- You have congenital neutropenia which is an inherited disorder that causes recurrent infection, and
- If you have thalassemia which is an inherited disorder of the blood that causes formation of abnormal form of haemoglobin, among other reasons.
The stem cell procedure involves 5 main stages. These are:
This is an important stage because it is when your general health is assessed, to ensure that you are healthy enough for the transplant procedure. The tests that you might undergo include:
- Blood tests to check the level of blood cells and assess how well, certain organs like the kidneys and liver are functioning,
- Computerised tomography or x-ray to check the condition of some organs such as the liver and lungs,
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) which is done to check the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity, and
- Echocardiogram test to look at the heart and nearby blood vessels.
- A biopsy can be done if you have cancer to check whether the cancer is under control and whether there is a high risk of reoccurrence.
Being in a state of good general health, ensures a higher success rate for an individual.
In this stage, the stem cells to be used for the transplant are collected and stored. The stem cells that can be harvested from the blood, cord blood (from the placenta or umbilical cord of a new-born baby) or from the bone marrow from a hip bone.
The two types of bone marrow transplants, based on where the cells are harvested, are:
- Autologous; from your own blood or bone marrow, and
- Allogenic; from a donor’s healthy stem cells.
In some cases, before the transplant is carried out, there is need for treatment with high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This is done to:
- Destroy the existing cancer cells,
- Destroy the existing bone marrow cells so as to create room for the tissue to be transplanted, and to
- Stop the functioning of the immune system which increases the risk of rejection of the transplant.
This is where the actual procedure is done using a central line, usually 2 days after the conditioning.
During the procedure, that takes a couple of hours, you remain awake. It is similar to a blood transfusion and therefore, you should not experience any pain during the procedure.
This is another very crucial time for patients because it is a waiting period to know whether the transplant was a success.
During this time, you remain at the hospital for a few weeks to give the stem cells time to settle in your bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells.
What to expect during the recovery stage
- Staying in a special germ-free room to prevent infection because with low level of white blood cells, your body is unable to fight infection. People who visit or attend to you will be required to wear protective clothing to prevent them from passing on any infections to you.
- Receiving fluids through the mouth or the nose to the stomach so as to prevent malnutrition.
- Regular blood and platelet transfusion because during that period, your level of red blood cells and platelets is low.
For most people, 1 to 3 months are enough for them to leave the hospital, however, for some, complications may lead to longer hospital stays.
What are some of the complications that may arise after a bone marrow transplant?
The risk of having complications due to bone marrow transplant depends on:
- A person’s age,
- The disease they are being treated for,
- Their overall health, and
- The type of transplant they are receiving.
Some of the symptoms that can help you realise whether you are having any complications after a stem cell transplant are:
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure
- Fever and/or chills
The actual complications include:
- Anaemia as a result of the body not producing enough red blood cells,
- Graft failure which involves the transplanted cells not producing new cells as expected,
- Bleeding from body organs like the brain and lungs,
- Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD); a condition in which the donor cells attack your body,
- Mucositis; a condition that causes inflammation and soreness of the stomach, mouth and throat, among other complications.
Getting your Bone Marrow Transplant
The complicated nature of bone marrow transplant needs experienced specialists and that is what we at International Medical Treatment Limited (IMT) help you to find.
Our partner hospitals in India, Thailand, The UAE and Turkey, have state-of-the-art technology and specialists who have ample knowledge and experience in bone marrow transplant procedures.