For people suffering from cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, stem cell transplants may be used as a treatment. There is research that is currently being conducted to see if this treatment can be used for other types of cancers. Stem cell transplants have been found to be effective for multiple myeloma and neuroblastoma, as well.
Why Use Stem Cell Treatments?
The most common way to treat cancer is with chemotherapy and radiation. Although it kills cancerous cells, it also ends up destroying bone marrow. Bone marrow is needed for the body to produce white blood cells and when the bone marrow becomes destroyed, this has a detrimental effect on the health of the individual.
To fight the side effects of chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation is an effective way to counteract this. When this treatment works, new white blood cells will be produced by the healthy bone marrow.
Where Do The Stem Cells Come From?
Most people think that stem cells come from embryos when treating medical conditions, however, hematopoietic stem cells are used for this condition. Along with the white blood cells that these stem cells produce, they also produce oxygen-rich, red blood cells, as well as new platelets.
When it is possible, the stem cells will be taken from the individual’s own body. The stem cells have to be removed before chemotherapy or radiation is done. The stem cells will be frozen until they are needed. It stem cells cannot be taken from the individual than there will be a search to find a donor. The donor will ideally be a close relative such as a brother or sister. This is commonly referred to as an allogenic transplant.
Who Is A Suitable Candidate?
Although using stem cells can be effective when treating certain cancers, not everyone may be a suitable candidate. Because the process can be difficult and prolonged, some hospitals will not perform a transplant on anyone over 60 years of age. Younger patients tend to respond better to the demands of this type of treatment.
What You Can Expect
Shortly after you have completed chemotherapy or radiation treatments, the transplant can be done. The stem cells that were previously frozen will be thawed out and carefully monitored within a laboratory environment. The cells will then be infused through an IV drip into the patient’s bloodstream. This is not a painful process but can be quite tedious. One session can take as long as five hours to complete.
The stem cells that were infused into the bloodstream will travel into the bone marrow. Once the bone marrow has been restored, the production of white blood cells will begin again. Sometimes, this might take only a few days but it can also take a few months.
Your immune system will be recovering following the stem cell treatment, so isolation is recommended to avoid picking up any type of infection. This isolation period will be determined by each individual’s white blood cell counts and their overall general health.
In the majority of people, this treatment is successful however, there is a risk that a person’s own immune cells can destroy the stem cells. It can take weeks or even months for a patient’s white blood cell count to return to a more normal level. By speaking with your doctor and oncologist, you can determine if this treatment is a possibility for your type of cancer. Never give up hope and never stop looking for a cure.