Bone Marrow Transplant Facts

Bone Marrow Transplant Facts

Preparing for TransplantDownload Preparing for Transplant (PDF), a detailed guide designed to help patients and their caregivers get ready for a bone marrow transplant. 

Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is a lifesaving treatment that replaces a patient’s diseased cells with healthy blood-making stem cells. This complex procedure was first developed about 50 years ago to treat life-threatening cancers. Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, MD, one of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s founders, won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work with BMT.

Since its introduction, BMT has succeeded in boosting long-term survival rates from nearly zero to more than 85 percent for several serious blood cancers in children. The newest BMT methods—such as reduced-intensity transplants, half-matched transplants, and cord blood transplants—have made the procedure available to many more children. Increasingly, children and young adults with noncancerous conditions, such as aplastic anemia, immune disorders, and autoimmune disease, are also benefitting from BMT.

Although newer methods make BMT more effective and safer, the procedure remains an ordeal for many patients and their families, often involving a long tense wait for a donor match, substantial complications, and no guarantee of success. That’s why BMT is still appropriate only for those with life-threatening or severely debilitating disease—and why our researchers are working so hard on strategies for BMT improvement as well as new alternatives.

This section provides an introduction to the basics of transplants—their purpose, how they are done, the different types, and other facts that might interest families of children having BMT. Also, you can find practical information about preparing for a transplant—from the first phone call to SCCA through the hospital stay and the return home—in the section What To Expect.

What Is a Transplant?

Get an overview of transplants, including what healthy marrow does, what happens when marrow malfunctions, and how transplants fight cancer and other diseases.

Collecting Bone Marrow or Stem Cells

Stem cells for transplantation can be collected in several ways. Find out what the options are.

Types of Transplants

In autologous BMT, the transplanted stem cells are the child’s own cells; in allogeneic BMT, the cells come from another person—a donor. There are options for children who need a donor but can’t find a match.

Diseases Treated

BMT can be used to treat children with leukemia, lymphoma, and noncancerous conditions, such as severe aplastic anemia, immune deficiencies, sickle cell disease, and other rare inherited disorders.

The Transplant Process

Walk through the seven main steps of the BMT process, from your first visit to SCCA through hospitalization, recovery, and long-term follow-up.

Finding or Becoming a Donor

Learn how tissue matching (HLA typing) works, what the process is for finding a matched donor, and what options are available if a matched donor can’t be found.

Transplant Definitions

Look up words commonly used when talking about bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.

Web Resources

The more you know about your child’s treatment options, the more empowered you’ll be. This list of reputable sources will help with your research.