The type of bone marrow transplant that may be appropriate for you depends on many factors, including the disease you have, the way your doctor expects your body to respond, and the availability of a donor. Your doctor will explain which type is recommended for your situation.
The main distinction between types of bone marrow transplants has to do with whose stem cells are being transplanted—the recipient’s own cells or cells from a donor.
Autologous bone marrow transplant
For some diseases, doctors can remove stem cells from a patient and then put these cells back into the patient after he or she undergoes conditioning (receiving chemotherapy, total body irradiation, or both). This is called an autologous transplant.
If you are having an autologous transplant, you do not need a donor; you are your own donor. You will undergo stem cell mobilization and collection or bone marrow harvesting as part of the transplant process.
Allogeneic bone marrow transplant
For some diseases, patients cannot use their own stem cells for a transplant. To have a chance at recovery, after conditioning they need stem cells donated by someone else who is healthy. This is called an allogeneic transplant.
If you are having an allogeneic transplant, your donor will undergo stem cell mobilization and collection or bone marrow harvesting—or in the case of a cord blood transplant, the stem cells were collected and frozen at the time of the baby’s birth.
Related donor transplant
Typically patients begin the allogeneic transplant process by trying to identify a relative to be their donor. Siblings are most likely to be a close match for a transplant (based on HLA typing); identical twins are an exact match.
Matched unrelated donor transplant
If you don’t have a relative available who is a match, doctors can search international donor registries for an unrelated donor who is a match for you. Read more about finding or becoming a donor.
Haploidentical and cord blood transplants
Haploidentical transplants, or half-matched transplants, and cord blood transplants open up the pool of potential donors and make it possible for nearly anyone to receive a transplant. Read more about new options for people seeking a donor.
Some people who need an allogeneic transplant will have a reduced-intensity transplant, which means doctors use reduced-dose conditioning to weaken, but not destroy, the bone marrow and immune system before infusing stem cells from a donor. While this type of conditioning is intensive, it is in some ways less intensive than conventional conditioning. These transplants may be called non-myeloablative transplants or mini-transplants. Read more about non-myeloablative transplants.