What to Know about Stem Cell Transplants

Stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, are used to treat a number of blood cancers and other disorders. There are two types of stem cell transplants: autologous transplants, in which the transplanted cells are from the patient’s own body, and allogenic, in which the cells are from a donor. The type of transplant used depends on the disease that is being treated.

In a recent Facebook Live Q&A, Edwin Alyea, MD, associate director of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Stem Cell Transplant Program, and his patient, Don Lewis, explained the procedure—which involves transplanting healthy stem cells from one individual to another, or using an individual’s own stem cells.

Stem cell transplants are performed in order to give a patient new blood cells, as well as a new immune system. It is this new immune system, says Alyea, that “plays a key role in making blood cancers go away and stay away.”

Don Lewis was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2013. After spending a few months on the stem cell transplant list, Don matched with a donor and then received a successful transplant. He has been in remission since his treatment in 2014, but stressed the importance of a support system during and after the transplant.

“If there is any wisdom I can impart to a stem-cell transplant candidate, it is that you need to ask questions, but you also need to be able to listen to what your doctors are telling you,” Don advised during the Q&A. Alyea also recommended bringing family and friends to appointments as a way to help take in all the information from your doctor.

Recovery “is a team sport,” Alyea stressed, adding that regular check-ups with the transplant team, help from caregivers, and access to psychosocial care are all important components of a patient’s recovery following a stem cell transplant.

Learn more about stem-cell transplants from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.