A stem cell transplant poses many risks of complications, some potentially fatal.
Your risk for complications depends on the reason for your transplant, your type of transplant, your age and your overall health.
Although some people experience few problems with a transplant, others may develop complications that may require treatment or hospitalization. Some complications could even be life-threatening.
Complications that can arise with a stem cell transplant include:
- Graft-versus-host disease (allogeneic transplant only)
- Stem cell (graft) failure
- Organ injury
- New cancers
Your doctor can explain your risk of complications from a stem cell transplant. Together you can weigh the risks and benefits to decide whether a stem cell transplant is right for you.
Graft-versus-host disease: A potential risk when stem cells come from donors
If you're undergoing a transplant that will use stem cells from a donor (allogeneic stem cell transplant), you may be at risk of graft-versus-host disease.
This condition occurs when a donor's transplanted stem cells attack your body. Graft-versus-host disease can be mild or severe. It can occur soon after your transplant or months to years later.
Graft-versus-host disease most commonly affects the:
- Skin, where it causes a sunburn-like rash
- Digestive system, where it can cause mouth sores, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Liver, where it can cause yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Lungs, where it can cause blocked airways
- Eyes, where it can cause irritation and light sensitivity
Graft-versus-host disease can lead to chronic disability due to organ injury or infections and can be life-threatening. Your doctor will monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of this complication.
July 17, 2014
- Bone marrow transplantation and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/bone-marrow-transplant. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Holmberg LA, et al. Determining eligibility for autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Hoffman R, et al. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Stem cell transplant (peripheral blood, bone marrow, and cord blood transplants). American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/BoneMarrowandPeripheralBloodStemCellTransplant/index. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- What is a blood marrow stem cell transplant? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.gov/health/health-topics/topics/bmsct. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Blood and marrow stem cell transplantation. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org/#/resourcecenter/freeeducationmaterials/treatment/bloodmarrowstemcelltransplant. Accessed March 5, 2014.