Our bones have parts. The outside, hard wall is not all of it. Inside the hard covering is another important part. This is called the bone marrow. And aside from filling out the bone outward shell, it has an important role in creating blood. It was the one that creates the different kinds of blood such as the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Each kind of blood has its function. Red blood cells are the one that carries nutrients and oxygen as it flows throughout the body. White blood cells serve as the soldiers of the body as they battle infections. Platelets have also their role in forming clots.
Another interesting characteristic of bone marrow is its containment of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) which are considered immature blood-forming stem cells. Many stem cells can reproduce themselves, but HSCs are different and considered unspecialized because of its characteristic to multiply through cell division. Meaning to say, they can grow into other kinds of blood cells or they can stay as stem cells.
In your entire life, bone marrow HSC will be the one responsible for making new blood cells.
What is a Bone Marrow Transplant?
Replacing a bone marrow that is destroyed or broken by infection, disease, or chemotherapy is a medical procedure called bone marrow transplant. To make the procedure possible, surgeons have to transplant healthy blood stem cells, which as we’ve mentioned earlier, is responsible for producing new blood cells as well as promoting new bone marrow growth. By producing new blood cells, your body can avoid having infections, anemia, or bleeding disorders.
If you ask where the healthy stem cells come from, it can be provided by a donor or your body can be a source. Before starting treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, stem cells can already be harvested or grown. Then the medical professionals will store these healthy stem cells and use it later for the transplant procedure.
Types of Bone Marrow Transplant
A bone marrow transplant has two types. Depending on what you need, surgeons can give you either autologous transplants or allogeneic transplants.
- Allogeneic Transplants – If the cells that will be used in the transplant come from a donor, it is called an allogeneic transplant. The cell that will be used should not come just from anyone. It should be in the closest genetic match to make the procedure successful. Usually, a compatible relative is the best donor as it typically matches the needed stem cell.
- Autologous Transplants – This kind of transplant only involves your stem cell. No donor is needed. The health professionals do this by harvesting the needed cell first before performing the transplant which involves damaging the cells through radiation or chemotherapy.
Who Needs a Bone Marrow Transplant?
People who have bone marrows that are not functioning well are the one who much needs of a bone marrow transplant. Usually, the cause of this bone marrow failure is a disease, infection, or cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. But other than that, other reasons for bone marrow transplant can be due to:
- Cancer – Multiple types of cancer can affect the bone marrow. These are leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma.
- Aplastic Anemia – A condition wherein the bone marrow does not produce new blood cells anymore.
- Congenital Neutropenia – This disorder is usually inherited and causing recurring infections.
- Sickle Cell Anemia – Like congenital neutropenia, sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder. However, this occurs in the blood. The disease deformed red blood cells.
- Thalassemia – In this condition, the body produces hemoglobin (a fundamental part of red blood cells) but in an abnormal form. The disorder is also inherited.
Does a Bone Marrow Transplant Have Complications?
Like other medical procedure, a bone marrow transplant is also associated with many complications. But developing complications will be based on some factors such as age, overall health, the illness that are being cured, and the type of transplant performed in you.
Complications have a level of severity. It can be mild, serious, or very serious. Some of the complications you may encounter are:
- Damage in vital organs
- Internal bleeding such as in the brain, lungs, or even in the other parts of the body
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Early menopausal stage
- Clouding of the eye lens, also known as cataracts
- Mucositis, a medical condition where the mouth, throat, and stomach became sore and inflamed
- Anemia, a condition where the body does not make enough red blood cells
- A graft failure occurs when the transplanted cell does not function and produce new cells
- Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), this condition occurs when the donor’s cell attacks your body
If any of the mentioned complications occur after a bone marrow transplant, you may want to speak to your doctor immediately.
Furthermore, you may also speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have about the procedure. They can educate you with the risks and complications that are associated with the procedure, helping you to weigh not just the benefits you can get from it.
What is the Possible Outcome of a Bone Marrow Transplant?
If the performed procedure is an allogeneic transplant, its success rate will depend on the compatibility of the donor and recipient’s stem cell. Finding an unfit match for the procedure will fail.
However, upon completing the procedure, the engraftment will be constantly checked. Usually, 10 to 28 days is the completion period of the transplant. To see if the transplant is successful, health care professionals monitor the level of white blood cells. If there is an increase in the white blood cells, it means that the new cell is producing new blood cells.
You may wait 3 months up to 1 year to fully recover from the procedure and it will still depend on several factors such as radiation, chemotherapy, donor match, the area where the transplant is performed, and the condition being treated.