A bone marrow transplant is a life-saving procedure recommended for patients with complex hematological diseases and malignancies. It involves the administration of healthy blood-forming cells that help in the production of new bone marrow. Over the years, the procedure has helped many patients lead a longer and better life, however, there are still a lot of myths associated with it, some of which can even prevent patients from opting for the procedure. We have busted some of these myths in this blog with the help of a leading expert specializing in bone marrow transplants in India.
Busting the myths
Myth 1 - A bone marrow transplant is only an option for patients suffering from blood cancer.
While many people think that this is true, the reality is that there are several non-malignant conditions that can give rise to the need for a bone marrow transplant. The aim of the procedure is to replace diseased bone marrow, which may not necessarily be linked to cancer. Other conditions that can be responsible for it include:
Haemoglobinopathy (Thalassemia and Sickle cell disease)- These are red cell disorders requiring regular blood transfusions to survive or relieve severe pain crises. Bone marrow transplant is the only cure for these diseases using healthy donors bone marrow stem cells
Aplastic anaemia - A bone marrow transplant is recommended for patients with severe aplastic anaemia, which is marked by the inability of the body to produce enough new blood cells. A patient suffering from the condition is likely to experience extreme fatigue and is highly susceptible to infections and uncontrolled bleeding. The condition can affect people of any age group.
SCID - It stands for severe combined immunodeficiency, which is not a single condition, but rather a group of conditions that lead to defective immune system. The condition is congenital and a child born with this is susceptible to repeated life threatening infections. These children usually require a transplant on an emergency basis, even in infancy.
Myth 2 - There is only one type of bone marrow transplant
We all know that during a bone marrow transplant, the defective bone marrow of a patient is replaced with healthy bone marrow, however, there are several different ways in which this is done, primarily depending upon the donor.
Allogeneic transplant - It involves the use of healthy stem cells collected from a donor. This requires a healthy donor which should be suitably HLA matched- which can be related/unrelated.
Autologous transplant - It involves the collection and infusion of healthy stem cells from patient himself/herself after administering high dose chemotherapy as a rescue.
Syngeneic transplant - It involves the use of healthy stem cells collected from the identical twin of the patient. This carries significantly fewer risks of complications and rejection. These transplants are not preferred for patients with blood cancers or genetic diseases.
Haploidentical transplant - It involves the use of healthy stem cells collected from a half or haplo-matched donor (usually a family member). The option is recommended for patients who are not able to find a full HLA matched donor.
Umbilical cord transplant - It involves the use of stem cells, collected from the umbilical cord of a baby at the time of birth.
Myth 3 – Is Bone marrow/ stem cell transplant a very painful procedure?
Bone marrow harvesting is done from the hip bone under general anesthesia which is a painless procedure for the donor. Stem cells can also be collected from blood after giving growth factor injections using a cell separator machine. A needle or catheter is inserted into a large vein and stem cells are collected in the blood bank. Donors usually experience minimal discomfort while donating stem cells. More than 90 % of stem cell collections currently is via peripheral blood.
Myth 4 - Children cannot undergo a bone marrow transplant
This is not true as bone marrow transplant is a leading treatment option for children and adolescents suffering from different types of blood-related cancers and non-cancerous diseases.
Dr. Divya Doval,
Consultant, Blood and Marrow Transplant