An Overview of Stem Cell Collection and Transplants

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Pre-transplant evaluation

A transplant physician will review your medical history and preferences with you to decide if an autologous stem cell transplant will help you. If the transplant physician thinks a transplant will help you, and if you decide you would like to undergo a transplant, we will perform several tests to make sure you are healthy enough to tolerate the procedure.

We will test how well your heart, lungs, liver and kidneys work and will test to see if you have any infections. We will also ask you about staying close to the UNM Cancer Center and about whether you can get regular support from caregivers while you are being treated in the outpatient clinic.

Stem cell collection (harvest)

Once you have been cleared to begin an autologous stem cell transplant, we will begin the treatment by collecting bone marrow stem cells from your blood. To collect these cells:

  • We will place a central venous catheter in you. A catheter is a tube that we will insert into one of your veins.
  • We will give you drugs that make your bone marrow stem cells leave your bone marrow and flow into your blood
  • We will collect your bone marrow stem cells through your catheter using an apheresis machine.

Processing and storing your cells

We will prepare and ship your bone marrow stem cells to a specialized processing lab.

At the lab, your bone marrow stem cells are counted and carefully frozen. The freezing process allows them to be stored for many years.

Thawing stem cells image

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

Stem cell transplantation

When your bone marrow stem cells are safely frozen and stored, you can receive chemotherapy to treat your cancer. Once you finish your chemotherapy, your bone marrow stem cells will be thawed and reinfused into you through an IV line. The infused stem cells will help your bone marrow to start making blood cells again.

Recovery period

Once your stem cells go back into your blood, they find their way back into your bone marrow. Once in your bone marrow, they start to grow and make blood cells again. This process usually takes several weeks.

Often people need to stay in the hospital for the first two to three weeks after their transplant. If needed, you will stay at UNM Hospital after your transplant. Within a couple of days after your discharge from UNM Hospital, our team will follow up with you. We will continue to follow up with you often for some time.

Long term follow up

  • You may take several months to fully recover your strength and energy.
  • We strongly suggest you get vaccines to rebuild your immune system during your recovery.
  • A transplant physician will talk with you and your cancer doctor about maintaining your long term health.

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