What Is Stem Cell Transplantation?
Stem cells are essential for blood cell production and are found in the bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood. During stem cell transplantation, your unhealthy blood cells or stem cells are destroyed using chemotherapy or radiation. They are replaced by healthy stem cells collected from your body or a healthy donor and transfused into your body, like a blood transfusion. Stem transplantation is not a surgical procedure. The infusion takes less than two hours, but the recovery takes several months.
The decision to use stem cells from your body or from a healthy donor depends in part on the disease being treated. If a healthy adult donor is not available, stem cells from umbilical cord blood can be used. Duke was one of the first transplant centers in the world to perform umbilical cord blood transplantation.
- Autologous stem cell transplantation uses your own stem cells.
- Allogeneic stem cell transplantation uses cells from a healthy related or unrelated donor.
- Syngeneic transplantation uses stem cells from an identical twin.
Before Your Stem Cell Transplant
Your First Appointment
Before your first visit to the Duke Blood Cancer Center, you will be assigned a dedicated stem cell transplant doctor, who will review your health history. At your appointment, your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure and make treatment recommendations.
Meeting Your Transplant Team
If you decide to proceed with stem cell transplantation, you will meet your transplant coordinator who will facilitate your appointments and coordinate your care. They will work with your financial counselor to help you find nearby housing during your treatment and help you navigate any financial and insurance concerns. Other members of your transplant team include board-certified hematologists and medical oncologists, clinical pharmacists, specially trained nurses, dietitians, and social workers. They meet regularly to discuss your care so they can offer the best recommendations and treatment to meet your needs.
The Stem Cell Transplant Process
Donor Search, Obtaining Cells
If you are receiving an allogeneic (healthy donor) transplant, we will begin the process of finding a suitable donor and collecting stem cells from them. If you are having an autologous transplantation, we will create a plan for collecting stem cells from your body.
You will have chemotherapy alone or combined with radiation therapy to kill cancer cells or unhealthy cells in your body. This conditioning regimen also prepares your body to accept the stem cells transplanted into your body. Most of our patients will receive the conditioning regimen as an outpatient in the Blood Cancer Center. If you need to be in the hospital, you will stay in a dedicated area for stem cell transplant patients.
Stem Cell Transplantation
Healthy stem cells are transfused into your bloodstream in a method similar to a blood transfusion. Once in your bloodstream, they make their way to the bone marrow and begin making blood cells.
After Stem Cell Transplantation
Recovery from stem cell transplantation takes approximately one to three months. We are one of the only programs in North Carolina that allow you to receive most or all of your care as an outpatient. This lets you stay in the comfort of your own home or nearby temporary residence. A caregiver must be with you at all times when you are not in the hospital.
Support for You and Your Family
Before, during, and after your treatment, our cancer support services help you minimize the side effects of treatment and cope with the emotional and psychological effects of diagnosis and treatment.
Once you complete your treatment, you will be discharged back to the care of your local doctor. Periodically you will undergo tests, either at Duke or with your doctor, to monitor your response to therapy and your major organ function.