What happens during a stem cell transplant?

Before receiving stem cell transplatation for leukemia, you will undergo a conditioning regimen, which involves intensive treatment to destroy as many leukemic cells as possible. You may receive high doses of chemotherapy, and in some cases radiation therapy.

You may also receive reduced-intensity conditioning (a “mini-allogeneic transplant”), which uses lower, less toxic doses of chemotherapy and/or Total Body Irradiation (TBI) before the transplant.

Once this preparative regimen is complete, you are ready to undergo the transplant. Much like a blood transfusion, you’ll receive the stem cells intravenously. The procedure takes about an hour.

After entering the bloodstream, the stem cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells in a process known as engraftment. The transplant restores the supply of normal cells that have been destroyed by the intensive therapies.

In the months following the transplant, your doctors will check your blood counts on a frequent basis to monitor this process.

Sometimes, the high doses of chemotherapy and radiation you receive before the stem cell transplant can cause side effects, such as infection. Another risk of an allogeneic stem cell transplant is graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), a condition where the donated cells attack the patient’s tissues. Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs to reduce the risk of infection or GVHD.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.