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What exactly is a stem cell transplant?

Stem cells are the body’s raw materials, the cells from which all specialized cells are generated. Under the appropriate conditions within the body or in a laboratory, stem cells divide to produce daughter cells. Doctors use stem cell transplants to treat people with life-threatening cancer or blood diseases caused by abnormal blood cells. A stem cell transplant assists your body in replacing those damaged blood cells with healthy or normal blood cells. Your doctor may use your healthy stem cells or donor stem cells if you receive a stem cell transplant.

What are the applications of stem cells?

Healthcare providers use stem cells to replace abnormal blood cells that cause leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer. They also use stem cell transplants to treat various types of anemia. Receiving healthy stem cells may benefit some people with multiple sclerosis. Researchers are looking into using stem cell transplants to treat other autoimmune diseases.

What are the risk factors involved?

Stem cell transplantation is a complex treatment with a high risk of serious complications, which includes:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Pain
  • Fever and chills are symptoms of infection.
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair thinning
  • Infertility

What can you expect prior to the stem cell transplant procedure?

If you’re a stem cell transplant candidate, your doctor will perform the following tests to make sure you can handle conditioning and transplantation side effects:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test determines the rhythm of your heart.
  • Echocardiogram: This test evaluates the pumping function of the heart.
  • CT scan: This test generates three-dimensional images of your organs and tissues:
  • Complete blood count (CBC): This test counts and analyses the cells in your blood. Your provider may also perform a liver function blood test or a kidney function blood test.
  • Biopsy. If you have cancer, your provider may perform a biopsy to examine your cancerous cells for new changes and assess the likelihood that your cancer will return after your transplant.

Your provider may insert a central venous catheter (CVC) in a large upper chest vein before your blood tests. Providers use CVCs to draw blood and administer medication and fluids. CVCs eliminate repeated blood draws and intravenous tube insertions during transplantation.

What experiences you encounter during a stem cell transplant procedure?

If you are receiving your own stem cells, your providers will draw blood to extract healthy stem cells for transplant. To accomplish this, veins in both of your arms are connected to a cell separator machine. The machine draws blood from one arm, filters it, and then returns it through the other. This procedure is safe. Providers may need to take blood more than once to ensure enough stem cells to transplant. The actual transplant entails receiving your stem cells through your CVC.

What experiences you encounter after stem cell transplant procedure is done?

It will take time for your new stem cells to produce new blood cells. If you receive donor stem cells, your transplanted stem cells will replace unhealthy stem cells and start rebuilding your immune system. Engraftment is the term for this process. In either case, you may need to stay in or near the hospital for several months so that your healthcare providers can support your recovery and track your progress. Here’s what to expect following your stem cell transplant:

  • Pre-treatment chemotherapy impairs your immune system’s ability to protect you from infections. To reduce that risk, you’ll be alone in a carefully cleaned room with minimal physical contact with other people.
  • Following a transplant, some people experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your doctors will give you pain relievers and fluids to replace what you’ve lost.
  • If you receive donor cells, you will be given immunosuppressive medication to reduce the possibility of your body rejecting the donor cells.
  • Blood transfusions may be required to replace red blood cells and platelets.

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