How you prepare

Pretransplant tests and procedures

You'll undergo a series of tests and procedures to assess your general health and the status of your condition, and to ensure that you're physically prepared for the transplant. The evaluation may take several days or more.

In addition, a surgeon or radiologist will implant a long thin tube (intravenous catheter) into a large vein in your chest or neck. The catheter, often called a central line, usually remains in place for the duration of your treatment. Your transplant team will use the central line to infuse the transplanted stem cells and other medications and blood products into your body.

Collecting stem cells for transplant

If a transplant using your own stem cells (autologous transplant) is planned, you'll undergo a procedure called apheresis (af-uh-REE-sis) to collect blood stem cells.

Before apheresis, you'll receive daily injections of growth factor to increase stem cell production and move stem cells into your circulating blood so that they can be collected.

During apheresis, blood is drawn from a vein and circulated through a machine. The machine separates your blood into different parts, including stem cells. These stem cells are collected and frozen for future use in the transplant. The remaining blood is returned to your body.

If a transplant using stem cells from a donor (allogeneic transplant) is planned, you will need a donor. When you have a donor, stem cells are gathered from that person for the transplant. This process is often called a stem cell harvest or bone marrow harvest. Stem cells can come from your donor's blood or bone marrow. Your transplant team decides which is better for you based on your situation.

Another type of allogeneic transplant uses stem cells from the blood of umbilical cords (cord blood transplant). Mothers can choose to donate umbilical cords after their babies' births. The blood from these cords is frozen and stored in a cord blood bank until needed for a bone marrow transplant.

The conditioning process

After you complete your pretransplant tests and procedures, you begin a process known as conditioning. During conditioning, you'll undergo chemotherapy and possibly radiation to:

  • Destroy cancer cells if you are being treated for a malignancy
  • Suppress your immune system
  • Prepare your bone marrow for the new stem cells

The type of conditioning process you receive depends on a number of factors, including your disease, overall health and the type of transplant planned. You may have both chemotherapy and radiation or just one of these treatments as part of your conditioning treatment.

Side effects of the conditioning process can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores or ulcers
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Infertility or sterility
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Cataracts
  • Organ complications, such as heart, liver or lung failure

You may be able to take medications or other measures to reduce such side effects.

Reduced-intensity conditioning

Based on your age and health history, your doctor may recommend lower doses or different types of chemotherapy or radiation for your conditioning treatment. This is called reduced-intensity conditioning.

Reduced-intensity conditioning kills some cancer cells and somewhat suppresses your immune system. Then, the donor's cells are infused into your body. Donor cells replace cells in your bone marrow over time. Immune factors in the donor cells may then fight your cancer cells.