Stem Cell Transplants

What are stem cell transplants?

A stem cell transplants, in combination with high dose chemotherapy, is a treatment that offers a chance for durable remission of multiple myeloma. High-dose chemotherapy, though effective in killing myeloma cells, also destroys normal blood-forming cells, called hematopoeitic stem cells, in the bone marrow. Stem cell transplantation replaces these important cells.

Hematopoeitic stem cells are normally found in the bone marrow and in the peripheral blood (blood found in the arteries or veins). Virtually all transplants in myeloma are now obtained from the blood and are referred to as peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) transplants. Bone marrow transplants are no longer done in multiple myeloma. Stem cells are collected after approximately four cycles of initial (induction) myeloma therapy in order to reduce the amount of myeloma cells. Medications that stimulate the production of stem cells (called mobilizing) are often given to ensure collection of sufficient stem cells for several transplants.

All patients who are eligible for transplantation are encouraged to have stem cells obtained (also known as “harvested”) so that the cells are available if the patient chooses to undergo transplantation at some point during the course of their disease.Stem cell transplants are categorized by the source of stem cells: allogeneic stem cells or autologous stem cells.

Common side effects of high-dose chemotherapy and transplantation include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the mouth and digestive tract), and fatigue. In addition, because the high-dose chemotherapy attacks healthy, disease-fighting cells as well as cancerous cells, there is an increased risk of infection. Other possible, but infrequent side effects may include organ damage, particularly to the lungs, liver, and kidneys.