Risks

A bone marrow transplant poses many risks of complications, some potentially fatal.

The risk can depend on many factors, including the type of disease or condition, the type of transplant, and the age and health of the person receiving the transplant.

Although some people experience minimal problems with a bone marrow transplant, others may develop complications that may require treatment or hospitalization. Some complications could even be life-threatening.

Complications that can arise with a bone marrow transplant include:

  • Graft-versus-host disease (allogeneic transplant only)
  • Stem cell (graft) failure
  • Organ damage
  • Infections
  • Cataracts
  • Infertility
  • New cancers
  • Death

Your doctor can explain your risk of complications from a bone marrow transplant. Together you can weigh the risks and benefits to decide whether a bone marrow transplant is right for you.

Graft-versus-host disease: A potential risk when stem cells come from donors

If you receive a transplant that uses stem cells from a donor (allogeneic transplant), you may be at risk of developing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). This condition occurs when the donor stem cells that make up your new immune system see your body's tissues and organs as something foreign and attack them.

Many people who have an allogeneic transplant get GVHD at some point. The risk of GVHD is a bit greater if the stem cells come from an unrelated donor, but it can happen to anyone who gets a bone marrow transplant from a donor.

GVHD may happen at any time after your transplant. However, it's more common after your bone marrow has started to make healthy cells.

There are two kinds of GVHD: acute and chronic. Acute GVHD usually happens earlier, during the first months after your transplant. It typically affects your skin, digestive tract or liver. Chronic GVHD typically develops later and can affect many organs.

Chronic GVHD signs and symptoms include:

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Vision changes, such as dry eyes
  • Skin changes, including scarring under the skin or skin stiffness
  • Rash
  • Yellow tint to your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
Oct. 13, 2016
References
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  2. Hoffman R, et al. Overview of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. In: Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed July 8, 2016.
  3. Blood-forming stem cell transplants. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/stem-cell-transplant/stem-cell-fact-sheet. Accessed July 8, 2016.
  4. Majhail NS, et al. Recommended screening and preventive practices for long-term survivors after hematopoietic cell transplantation. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation. 2012;18:348.
  5. Diseases treatable by transplants. National Marrow Donor Program. https://bethematch.org/transplant-basics/how-transplants-work/diseases-treatable-by-transplants/. Accessed July 8, 2016.
  6. AskMayoExpert. Graft-versus-host disease. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.
  7. Blood and marrow stem cell transplantation. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org/resource-center/download-or-order-free-publications. Accessed July 8, 2016.
  8. Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Autologous stem cell transplant. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.
  9. Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 20, 2016.