Stem cell transplantation (sometimes called bone marrow transplants) is a treatment for certain forms of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, as well as other diseases. But before a patient can receive a transplant, stem cells must be collected from a donor (an allogeneic donation) or from the patient (an autologous transplant). In some cases, cord blood stem cells can be collected from the umbilical cord when a child is born. Stem cells from adult donors can be collected from bone marrow or from the bloodstream.
When a stem cell donor is needed, the patient’s transplant team will typically look for a match among sibling family members first. If no family member is identified as a suitable match, transplant centers will search for a suitable match through donor registries, such as the National Marrow Donor Program’s Be the Match® registry. If you join the registry, are identified as a match, and agree to donate, your stem cells can be collected through one of two procedures:
A bone marrow stem cell donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. During this process, doctors use needles to withdraw liquid bone marrow from your hip bone. Donors receive either general or spinal anesthesia during the procedure, which takes 1.5 to 2 hours.
A peripheral blood stem cell collection is a non-surgical procedure that is similar to donating platelets. Peripheral blood stem cells are stem cells produced in bone marrow then mobilized into the bloodstream after the donor takes a regimen of drugs. During the donation process, blood is removed through a needle in the donor’s arm and passed through a machine that separates the stem cells. The remaining blood is returned through the donor’s other arm. This process takes several hours over the course of 1 to 2 days, to ensure that doctors get enough stem cells.
The patient’s doctor will recommend either a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell collection from the donor, based on what’s best for the patient. In each type of donation, your body will replace the harvested stem cells within a few weeks.
The time it takes for a donor to recover can vary. Some people say they’re back to their normal routine within a few days, while others say it can take a few weeks to get back to full strength.