Stem Cell Transplantation and Leukemia
Stem cells may come from the patient or from a donor. Depending on the source of the stem cells being transplanted, the procedure may be one of the following:
- Autologous stem cell transplantation -- This type of transplant uses the patient's own stem cells. The stem cells are removed from the patient and treated to kill any leukemia cells that are present. The stem cells are then frozen and stored. After the patient receives high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the stored stem cells are thawed and returned to the patient.
- Allogeneic stem cell transplantation -- This type of transplant uses healthy stem cells from a donor. The patient's brother, sister, parent, or someone who is unrelated to the patient may be the donor. Doctors use blood tests to ensure that the donor's cells match the patient's cells.
- Syngeneic stem cell transplantation -- This type of transplant uses stem cells from the patient's healthy identical twin.
After a stem cell transplant, patients usually stay in the hospital for several weeks. The healthcare team will protect patients from infection until the transplanted stem cells begin to produce enough white blood cells.
Patients who have stem cell transplantation may be at an increased risk for infection, bleeding, and other side effects because of the large doses of chemotherapy and radiation that they receive. In addition, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) may occur in patients who receive stem cells from a donor's bone marrow. In GVHD, the donated stem cells react against the patient's tissues and affect the liver, skin, or digestive tract. GVHD can be mild or very severe and it can occur any time after the transplant, even years later. In some cases, steroids or other drugs may help.