Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation

Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center has one of the oldest and largest bone marrow and stem cell transplant programs in the county. We have the only such program in the region. During the past thirty years, the Program has performed over 3,000 transplants. If bone marrow transplant is needed a hematologist oncologist will coordinate your treatment.

What is Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation?

Bone marrow is a soft, sponge-like material inside your bones. Bone marrow contains the stem cells that make the cells that carry oxygen through the body, fight infection, and help blood clot, which protects you from bleeding. Stem cells are the master cells or seeds from which all blood cells develop. Stem cells can be collected from bone marrow, peripheral blood or umbilical cord blood.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplant are procedures that collect and restore stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

The main purpose of stem cell transplant in cancer treatment is to make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy generally affect cells that divide rapidly. They are used to treat cancer because cancer cells divide more rapidly than most healthy cells.

However, because bone marrow cells also divide rapidly, high-dose treatments can severely damage or destroy the patient's bone marrow. Without healthy bone marrow, the patient is no longer able to make the blood cells needed to carry oxygen, defend against infection, and prevent bleeding.

Diseases treated with bone marrow and stem cell transplant include:

Bone Marrow Transplant

A bone marrow transplant is a procedure to replace the bone marrow that has been destroyed during treatment. A bone marrow transplant is used to treat certain cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Stem Cell Transplant

Stem cell transplant is very similar to bone marrow transplant except that the stem cells are harvested from the patient's bloodstream rather than the bone marrow. The healthy, transplanted stem cells can restore the bone marrow's ability to produce the blood cells the patient needs.

Types of Transplants

There are three different types of transplants. The type of donor used determines the type of transplant. There are several different types of donors of stem cells:

  • Autologous Transplant: The stem cells are removed from and returned to the same person.
  • Allogeneic Transplant: The stem cells come from another person who has been found to have the same immune system type (HLA-type) as the patient. This person could be related, usually a brother or sister (if this person is an identical twin it is called a syngeneic transplant). The stem cells could also come from an unrelated donor obtained through a bone marrow registry or cord blood registry.
  • Cord Blood Transplant: The stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord are stored until they are needed for a transplant. Umbilical cord blood cells are immature and there is less of a concern for them being a match.

To determine which type of transplant is best for your, your transplant doctor will take into account many factors including the type of disease, age and the availability of a donor.

You can also learn more about bone marrow and stem cell transplantation at OncoLink.