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Why are stem cell transplants performed?

Stem cell transplant is the term commonly used to describe bone marrow transplant and transplants done with stem cells found in the blood. Stem cell transplants offer some patients the possibility of a cure, and others a longer period of disease-free survival.

A stem cell transplant is used for treatment when:

  • Your body cannot make the blood cells it needs because your bone marrow or stem cells have failed.
  • Your bone marrow or blood cells have become diseased. In this case you need healthy stem cells to replace the diseased bone marrow/stem cells.
  • You have a disease that can only be cured with high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, which destroys both the cancer and your stem cells. In this case, you may need a transplant to replace the stem cells you’ve lost during treatment.

Without stem cells, your body cannot make blood and the components that your immune system needs to function. During stem cell transplant, your body is "rescued" with an infusion of healthy stem cells. The new stem cells grow and produce all of the different parts of your blood that both your body and your immune system need.

The stem cells used for transplant can come from the bloodstream (peripheral blood), the umbilical cord blood of a newborn, or bone marrow. The decision about the best source of stem cells is complex. Your doctor will decide which method of stem cell collection should be used for your treatment.

What diseases are treated with transplant?

Stem cell transplants are used to treat several types of cancer as well as other blood and immune system diseases. Some diseases treated with stem cell transplant include:

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