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

stem cell transplant can be referred to as a bone marrow transplant (BMT) or peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT) or umbilical cord blood transplantation (UCBT), depending on the source of the cells that are transplanted. In other words, the only real distinction between a bone marrow transplant and a stem cell transplant in the method of collecting the stem cells.

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.

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

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.

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.

Learn more from the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber.

15 thoughts on “Stem Cell Transplant vs. Bone Marrow Transplant: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Hi, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer which spread to lymph nodes and bone. I read where bone stem/bone marrow transplant can cause Osteosarcoma. I had a bone stem transplant at stage 2 breast cancer in Mexico in February of 2015, my scans at that time showed no signs of bone cancer, then in July of 2015 I had bone scan and it had spread to my sternum and spine. I did radiation for inflammatory breast cancer on my left breast and chest wall and now the cancer has spread to the ribs. I read that side effects of radiation to breast and chest wall can cause it to spread to the ribs. If all this is true did radiation and bone stem transplant cause it to spread so rapidly to my bones? How do I find research to back this? Also, My naturopath Doctor did some testing and says that the cancer started in the bone and not the breast. Can Photo Dynamic Therapy cure bone cancer? What about radio Isotopes? How do you find out where it started? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

  2. Dear Judy —

    We are so sorry to hear about your diagnosis and health issues. Unfortunately, without knowing more information about your medical background, it is difficult for us to answer some of your questions. We also cannot give out specific medical advice on this blog or over email.

    Prior treatment with radiation can increase risk for bone cancer. More information on treatment, research, and risk factors is available here:

    If you are looking for more information about Inflammatory Breast Cancer, you may want to check out our Inflammatory Breast Cancer Center:

    I hope this information is helpful. Wishing you all the best.

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