Stem Cell vs. Bone Marrow Transplant: What’s the Difference?


With Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana-Farber has performed thousands of stem cell/bone marrow transplants for adult and pediatric patients with blood cancers and other serious illnesses.

What’s the difference between these two terms? As it turns out, the only real distinction is in the method of collecting the stem cells.

Let’s start with the basics.

Stem cells are versatile cells with the ability to divide and develop into many other kinds of cells.

Hematopoietic stem cells produce red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout the body; white blood cells, which help ward off infections; and platelets, which allow blood to clot and wounds to heal.

  • Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow—the spongy material inside the bones.
  • Some of the hematopoietic stem cells circulate from the marrow into the bloodstream. When the cells are found there, they are called peripheral blood stem cells.

While chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are essential treatments for the majority of cancer patients, high doses can severely weaken—and even wipe out—healthy stem cells. That’s where stem cell transplantation comes in.

Stem cell transplantation is a general term that describes the procedures performed by the Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Stem cells for transplant can come from bone marrow or blood.

When stem cells are collected from bone marrow and transplanted into a patient, the procedure is known as a bone marrow transplant. If the transplanted stem cells came from the bloodstream, the procedure is called a peripheral blood stem cell transplant—sometimes shortened to “stem cell transplant.”

Whether you hear someone talking about a “stem cell transplant” or a “bone marrow transplant,” they are still referring to stem cell transplantation. The only difference is where in the body the transplanted stem cells came from. The transplants themselves are the same.


  1. I have a family member who is suffering from “Stiff Person Syndrome.” We have found out that she can be cured through a Stem Cell Transplant however the procedure is $400,000 U.S dollars. Could you please offer information on other countries that offer the procedure at a lesser cost?

  2. Stephanie Packer

    I have a friend who got one done in Chicago for 125,000 US dollars (12 weeks ago). Still very expensive, but much less than what you wrote!

  3. My mom has llc cancer (which is where her white blood cells are off the charts)and when her cancer gets bad enough she’ll need a bone marrow transplant in order to live longer. My question is my son was born in a military hospital where they kept his ambilical cord for research . Should I find out how to get to it, if my son was to be a match. I want to prolong my moms life if it could help her. Or would it be wasting hope to further researched.

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