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How to Choose a Stem Cell Transplant Center

  • Information for Patients and Families

    Choosing a stem cell transplantation center is one of the most important decisions you will make during your, or your loved one's, treatment for cancer or another serious illness. With many programs to choose from, the task may seem overwhelming.

    Download, print, or share our free checklist of useful questions to ask each transplant center you are considering. You can read our Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program's answers to those questions below.

    Center Expertise

    How long as the center been performing stem cell transplants?

    Since it was founded in 1972, the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program has performed more than 8,700 stem cell transplants for adult patients – making us one of the largest and most experienced transplant centers anywhere in the world.

    How many transplants has the center performed for people with your specific condition?

    Our program – which has performed more than 8,700 stem cell transplants to date – performs approximately 500 transplants annually. Please refer to the table below for statistics (from the start of our formalized data capture in 1982 through the end of 2015) about the transplants our center has performed for patients with various diseases.

    Primary Disease Transplants Performed, 1982–2016
    Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) 1,593
    Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL),
    prolymphocytic leukemia (PLL)
    446
    Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) 423
    Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) 442
    Other acute leukemia 15
    Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) 552
    MPD and mixed MDS/MPD 155
    Hodgkin disease 558
    Multiple myeloma/plasma cell disorder 1,931
    Other malignancy 47
    Aplastic anemia, sickle cell, and other disorders of hematopoiesis 131
    Immunodeficiency 13
    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 2,420
    Other disease 6

    Does the center have a commitment to reporting and following patient outcomes, above and beyond national requirements?

    Here at DF/BWCC, we have consistently participated in outcomes reporting. We have also played a major role in developing outcomes metrics and standards, as well as analyzing patient outcomes data. Capturing this data ensures that we are continually improving our outcomes – and providing the highest standards of care for our patients.

    How many credentialed transplant physicians does the center have on staff?

    DF/BWCC's Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program currently has 35 credentialed transplant physicians on staff. All are faculty members of Harvard Medical School. Our transplant physicians include past and present leaders within such organizations as the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

    Do the center's nurses have extensive, specialized experience caring for transplant patients?

    At DF/BWCC, your primary point of contact will be your specially trained transplant nurse, who works collaboratively with your physician and other team members to coordinate and oversee your treatment plan throughout your journey. Your program nurse will play a key role in your treatment both before and after transplant, and is an important resource for you and your family at each step of the process.

    Does the center actively collaborate with other clinicians in their hospital or practice – such as pulmonary and infectious disease experts – who specialize in stem cell transplantation?

    At DF/BWCC, our Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program includes imaging, infectious disease, metabolic disorder, renal disease, pathology, and radiation oncology experts who have extensive experience caring for transplant patients.

    Does the center offer clinical trials for stem cell transplant patients (including national, multi-center trials)?

    DF/BWCC has an active research program, including many clinical trials. These studies are driving promising new tools, techniques, and therapies in the field of stem cell transplantation. You may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial as part of the treatment of your illness. Your care team will discuss your treatment plan at length with you, including any clinical trial options available to you.

    If you need an unrelated donor transplant, does the center have a specially trained donor search coordinator?

    Our Donor Services program is accredited by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) to coordinate donor searches for patients who do not have a related donor. If you are having an unrelated donor transplant, a donor search coordinator will provide support with this process. Once a suitable donor has been located, the donor search coordinator will work with your care team, the donor registry, and donor center to schedule the stem cell harvest.

    Is the center accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy and/or any other relevant organizations?

    Yes. In addition to being accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy, our center is also fully accredited by the National Marrow Donor Program; a charter member of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network of the National Institutes of Health; and a member of both the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (formerly CALGB).

    Does the center have a dedicated Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility to process the stem cells it uses for transplant?

    A GMP facility is one that adheres to specific manufacturing processes and practices established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dana-Farber is home to the Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility – New England's only Class 10,000 GMP cell therapy facility an academic medical center.

    Can the center identify members of a dedicated team that oversees quality initiatives for stem cell transplantation?

    Dana-Farber has a Department of Cellular Therapy Quality Assurance that is devoted to overseeing quality improvement, quality assurance, and quality control issues involving stem cells and all other cellular products used for patients.

    Your Treatment

    Is the center available to answer all of your questions about treatment?

    At DF/BWCC, our team of stem cell transplant specialists is dedicated to providing you with excellent and compassionate care. Before, during, and after your treatment, you are invited and encouraged to ask questions.

    Is the center responsive and helpful to the greatest possible degree, even before you make an appointment?

    Here at DF/BWCC, we are committed to providing total care – meeting your physical, emotional, and family needs. Our caring and knowledgeable team is here to guide you in your decision-making process and answer any questions you may have. Feel free to contact us at any time.

    Will the same team be treating you before, during, and after your transplant?

    At DF/BWCC, our multidisciplinary care team provides compassionate and personalized care that addresses your individual needs. You will be cared for by a group of professionals, known as your care team, who specialize in stem cell transplantation. Your care team will provide complete and well-managed care throughout the course of your stem cell transplant.

    How well will your insurance plan cover transplantation at this particular center?

    Here at DF/BWCC, each stem cell transplant patient is assigned a financial counselor who will help explain your health insurance coverage as it relates to your transplant. As part of your care team, your financial counselor will be the link between you and your insurance company. He or she will verify your insurance benefits, identify any patient financial responsibilities (such as co-pay amounts, deductibles, co-insurance, and coverage "caps"), and provide the appropriate clinical information that your health insurance provider will require for prior authorization.

    How well will your insurance plan cover any testing – including stem cell donor testing – you may need at this particular center, as well as required pre-transplant care, such as dental work?

    If you undergo stem cell transplantation at DF/BWCC, before your hospital admission, you will undergo a pre-transplant evaluation. This includes a series of medical exams and tests to confirm your eligibility for stem cell transplantation. Your transplant collection coordinator will schedule all of your required pre-transplant testing, and will provide you with a list of your testing dates to help you plan your schedule. Your financial counselor will help you determine your insurance coverage for all of your specific pre-admission tests.

    How well will your insurance plan cover any post-transplantation medications you may need and any other medical expenses you may incur at this center?

    Additional costs may come from insurance co-pays and deductibles related to medical care or to medications you take at home, after your transplant. Your DF/BWCC transplant financial counselor is experienced with this and can help you understand the costs of your care.

    Is the center able to collaborate with your local medical provider on your pre- and post-transplant care?

    At DF/BWCC, our transplant physicians are committed to working closely with your referring physician throughout your transplant experience. We will communicate and collaborate with your local care team at each step – ensuring a seamless continuum of care.

    Available Resources and Support

    What patient education materials, classes, and/or programs does the center offer?

    To help you and your loved ones understand the stem cell transplant procedure, and to help you feel as comfortable as possible through every step of care, DF/BWCC has created Stem Cell Transplantation: An Information Guide for Patients and Caregivers. You'll receive and review your guide during an education session with a program nurse.

    In addition to the many classes, lectures, and special events for patients offered by the Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center, we offer a comprehensive education program – now expanded to include blended learning formats – that is tailored for our stem cell transplant patients and their caregivers. Topics covered include post-transplant precautions, following medication plans, and recognizing symptoms that call for a follow-up visit.

    What emotional and psychological support services does the center provide?

    Here at DF/BWCC, many resources are available to help you (as well as your family and other loved ones) mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Such services include:

    Will you have access to social workers, psychologists, and/or counselors at each stage of the transplant process?

    Yes. As a new stem cell transplant patient at DF/BWCC, you will meet with a clinical social worker from the Care Coordination Department as part of your planning and preparation. He or she will meet with you and your caregiver.

    Throughout the different phases of transplant, social workers are available upon request, or with a referral from your transplant medical team. They can provide emotional support and counseling to you, as well as your family members. They are available to address any resource questions, and to help you and your family cope with concerns or issues that may arise during your illness and treatment.

    How does the center support caregivers and families of transplant patients?

    At DF/BWCC, we consider our stem cell transplant patients' caregivers and other loved ones to be a part of the care team, too. Caregivers also have access to a wide range of supportive resources, including:

    • A comprehensive information guide for caregivers, Stem Cell Transplantation: An Information Guide for Patients and Caregivers
    • A safe, private, and welcoming Stem Cell Transplant Online Community (for more information about joining, please send us an email) for all DF/BWCC stem cell transplant patients and their caregivers. By taking part, caregivers will find – and be able to offer others – emotional support, helpful resource materials, and practical suggestions about life before, during, and after stem cell transplantation.
    • The Family Connections program at DF/BWCC, which provides supportive resources to patients with cancer who have children, as well as to the children themselves
    • A wide range of additional special education events and discussion groups, including some that are designed specifically for caregivers

    Can the center put you in touch with transplant survivors who are willing to talk to you about their experiences?

    Here at DF/BWCC, you will have the option to participate in One-to-One – a telephone support program that connects patients and their loved ones with a trained volunteer who has previously been through the stem-cell transplant experience (someone who is personally familiar with the complex issues of cancer treatment, transplant, and survivorship).

    For more information about our Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program, or to request an appointment or second opinion, please call us at 877-DFCI-BWH (877-332-4294) or fill out our secure online form.