Stem Cell Transplant

Visit the Blood Cancers & Stem Cell Transplant Care Team page

Pre-Transplant chemotherapy

For some people, higher-dose chemotherapy can lead to longer remissions or sometimes even a cure. However, high-dose chemotherapy can cause your blood counts to remain low for longer periods of time.

In order to help the blood counts to recover faster after chemotherapy, we will collect your own stem cells before giving the chemotherapy and then will give the stem cells back to you after the chemotherapy is finished.

Most chemotherapy treatments take between one and five days. Depending on your health and the chemotherapy you receive, you may have to stay in the hospital.

After the chemotherapy is gone from your system, we will bring your stem cells from the laboratory, thaw them, and infuse them back into you.

What to expect during your transplant process

stem cell transplant catheter image

An IV catheter used during a stem cell transplant.

The bone marrow stem cells are infused through an IV catheter.

Nurses will stay with you during the stem cell infusion to check your vital signs and to make sure that you are comfortable. The stem cell infusion may take several hours or it may take less time. The length of your infusion depends on the total number of cells that need to be infused.

In order to protect your stem cells during the freezing process, a chemical called DMSO (Dimethyl Sulfoxide) is added to the stem cells at the time of collection. After your stem cells are reinfused, your body will get rid of DMSO through your breathing and through your urine. This will make your breath smell like garlic or creamed corn for several hours or even days. You might also notice a funny taste in your mouth, but this taste is not harmful. Lemon drops or hard candy might help you.

Frozen stem cell image

Frozen stem cells are removed from a storage container.

Thawing stem cells image

During your transfusion, bags of stem cells are thawed in a warm water bath minutes before they are transfused.

You might feel fever, chills, rash, or shortness of breath during infusion of your stem cells. The infusion may also cause nausea, headaches or, rarely, more serious reactions. We will give you medication to help prevent these symptoms, and extra treatments if necessary. You will be monitored closely during the entire infusion procedure.

Once the stem cells are infused, they will circulate in your bloodstream for a period of time and and, then eventually find their way back to your bone marrow to begin making blood cells again.

New blood cells will start forming in your bloodstream about 10-12 days after the stem cells infusion. This new blood cell growth is called “engraftment”.

The appearance of newly produced cells in the bloodstream is called engraftment.

Until your reinfused bone marrow produces enough new mature blood cells, you will have low blood counts including low white blood cells, low red blood cells, and low platelets. You might need to stay in the hospital if we think you may need a transfusion or if we need to watch you closely for infections. Our medical team will monitor you closely for any complications.

  • We will check your blood counts daily.
  • We will give you antibiotics to help prevent infections. The antibiotics that you receive will depend on your blood counts, how long it has been since your transplant, and whether any infections develop.
  • If your red blood cells or platelets are low, we will give you transfusions.

One of the most important things you can do during your treatment is to walk every day. Getting out of bed and taking walks regularly — even while you are in the hospital — will help you to maintain your strength and stamina. Good strength and stamina speeds your long-term recovery.

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