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How does stem cell transplant affect the body?

  • The treatment you receive as part of your stem cell transplant may affect your body in different ways, depending on the type of treatment and your physical condition. It can affect you emotionally (depression, stress, anxiety) and physically (fatigue, pain, hair loss, infertility).

    Many side effects can be treated with medication. There are also a number of other therapies available. Many patients also find it helpful to meet with a clinical social worker.

    It's important that you understand the potential impact of treatment before you start the stem cell transplant process. Please share any concerns and questions with your doctor or nurse.

    Fertility issues

    Radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments can cause temporary or permanent infertility. This can be related to a number of factors, including gender, age, the specific type and dose of radiation or chemotherapy, and the length of time since treatment.

    If you're concerned about the effects of treatment on your ability to have children, you should discuss this with your doctor or a member of your care team before your stem cell transplant process begins.

    Your transplant physician can recommend a fertility specialist who can discuss available options (such as sperm banking, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization) and help you and your partner through the decision-making process.

    Other fertility resources

    Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital
    Livestrong Fertility
    The American Society for Reproductive Medicine 

    Body image and sexual feelings

    The stem cell transplant process can be challenging both physically and mentally. Treatment effects can include hair loss, skin rash, swelling, weight loss or weight gain, and decrease in sexual desire.

    These changes can affect the way you feel about yourself as well as your relationship with others. You may feel self-conscious or unattractive as you recover and regain your health.

    It’s important that you communicate how you feel about body image and your sexual feelings with your spouse or partner. Members of your care team can help answer your questions or provide counseling for you and your partner.

    Learn about our Sexual Health Program for cancer patients.

    What role do alternative medicines have in my treatment?

    Complementary and integrative medicines can play a very important role in your treatment. Many integrative therapies, such as massage or acupuncture, enhance quality of life for cancer patients.

    However, it is very important that you speak with your health care team regarding your usage of alternative therapies in order to develop a safe treatment plan.

    If they're not monitored as part of your overall treatment, some alternative therapies can have serious complications. The use of some non-prescription drugs during cancer treatment, such as herbs and food supplements, can lead to health risks.

    It's important you tell your health care team before your transplant about any alternative therapies you're using.

  • Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant