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.