What is involved with a leukemia bone marrow transplant?
A leukemia bone marrow transplant may be utilized to restore healthful bone marrow in patients with leukemia. The transplantation of new stem cells can help stimulate the body to create new bone marrow and can revive a worn down immune system. There are many survivors of this disease, but sadly there are also many that die from it. This is why we stress the importance of donating bone marrow now. To read a first-hand account of a battle with leukemia that ended in tragedy you can read this article about Manny Valdes https://www.giftoflife.org/posts/post/manny-valdes-seeks-marrow-donor
Prior to receiving a leukemia bone marrow transplant, you may need to undergo a rigorous conditioning program, which consists of intense treatment methods that are deployed to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible without causing damage to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is the primary method used as of this writing and depending on the severity the disease, radiation treatment may also become an option. There are also less toxic forms of this therapy that are available depending on your needs. A mini-allogeneic transplant consists of less toxic doses of the chemotherapy and can be performed prior to the bone marrow transplant. There is the possibility that during this intense pre-transplantation treatment that the process can wear down the immune system and make a patient sick. During this time patients can be treated with antibiotics that are administered through an IV.
After this process has completed, the body will be ready to receive a leukemia bone marrow transplant. The process is very similar to a blood transfusion and the new marrow will be transferred into your body. If everything progresses properly that procedure can take up to an hour or more. Once the new stem cells are transplanted into the patient’s body, they will make their way to the bodies bone marrow and the process of regeneration will begin. This procedure is referred to as engraftment.
If your leukemia bone marrow transplant was an allogeneic stem cell transplant, your primary physician may decide to prescribe specialized medications to decrease the danger and lower the risk of graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), a problem that occurs when the transplanted cells attack the patient’s native cells.
Post Transplant Recovery
After a leukemia bone marrow transplant, a patient will need to take time to recover. There may be instances where a patient will need to return to work, but there will be physical limitations that the patient will need to respect and honor to ensure the recovery process completes. Every patient is different and this recovery process can take a very long time depending age, health, and commitment. You will have a recovery treatment staff assigned to you to help with the recovery process. They should remain in your corner until the recovery is complete.
There may be opportunities to increase the recovery time by feeding your body the nutrition and supplements it needs to recover properly. A dietitian may create a custom meal plan that includes supplements to help speed up the recovery process. There may also be natural remedies available that can help with inflammation and help eliminate some of the side effects that may surface during this time. You may also be required to seek the help of a physical rehabilitation specialist to help you get your body back in action.
There is no doubt that you will experience pain along the way and there should be pain relief medication made available to you by your medical practitioner. Your mental health is also important during this time of recovery and a therapist may be needed to help you get through this difficult time. If the process becomes a burden too heavy to bear, you may want to seek emotional support through local communities of survivors and cancer patients. Every survivor has a story similar to yours, take comfort in knowing you are not alone.
The Two Main Leukemia Bone Marrow Transplants Are
Autologous Stem Cell Transplants: With this transplantation process the patient will have stem cells collected from their own body, they will be isolated, frozen, and stored securely until the patient is ready to have them re-introduced into the bloodstream. The introduction of those cells happen after radiation or chemotherapy treatment and after the cancer cells have been destroyed and are no longer present in the body.
Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplants: This transplant requires a bone marrow donor match. This could be a family member or a complete stranger, anyone can donate bone marrow and save lives. You can sign up to become a donor by finding a bone marrow match registry. Other ways a bone marrow match may be obtained is through blood saved from the umbilical cord. To find out if someone is an exact match donor they will need to undergo some testing. That test is called a human leukocyte antigens (HLA) test. During that test, it’s possible to evaluate the donor’s blood and tissue samples to confirm if they are an exact match for a leukemia bone marrow transplant.
One of the main benefits of an allogeneic stem cell transplant is that the stem cells are being donated by a healthy individual that is cancer free. Finding an exact match donor can be a complicated process while we wait for more people to donate bone marrow. This is the biggest reason why an autologous stem cell transplant is typically more common when performing a leukemia bone marrow transplant.