A stem cell transplant is when healthy stem cells are taken from the body, then put back in for either donor transplant or to put back into your own body. Most stem cells are in your bone marrow. You also have some in your blood that circulates from your bone marrow. Bone marrow stem cells turn into red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets to help your body stay healthy. Sometimes the bone marrow is attacked and can no longer make normal blood cells. This is when the healthy stem cells are placed in your body. They are usually put back in through a catheter that goes into your chest. The stem cells travel back into your bone marrow. They begin the process of making new cells in a few weeks. The process is really a miracle of sorts as it saves many lives each year.
When stem cells come from your own blood or bone marrow, it is called an autologous transplant. Autologous stem cell transplants are when you take a patient’s own stem cells to use at a later date to put back into their body.
A doctor will have to make sure you are a good candidate for a stem cell transplant. He will consider your age and your overall health. If you are under age 70 and in pretty good health you may be a good candidate for a stem cell transplant. If you have a good heart, kidneys and liver and are not diabetic, you could be a good candidate. The doctor will also consider how the disease has grown and how aggressive the cancer is. People with aggressive cancer that has already spread to many areas of the body are not considered to be good candidates for stem cell transplant.
Blood will be taken before you have chemotherapy. This is stored in a freezer, then after you chemotherapy, the good blood cells will be put back into your body. They will be tested first to make sure that there is no cancer in these cells. If any cancer is found, the blood will be cleaned before it is frozen for later use. Usually the frozen blood when introduced back into the body will begin making new cells. This allows a person to begin to heal after the depletion of red blood cell, white blood cells, and platelets that have been deplete during chemotherapy. Thus begins the healing process. It usually takes months before the person begins to feel better. After the red blood cells begin to form a person will have more energy. After the white cells begin to form, a person will have more resistance to disease and infection. The new platelets will help keep the person from bleeding excessively.
After the radiation and chemotherapy treatments, then the stem cell transplant, you may be put in isolation and given antibiotics because your bone marrow cells are unable to fight infection. You may need to receive several transfusions of blood cells and platelets until your blood begins to produce its own. The autologous stem cell transplant givens you back your normal bone marrow.