Stem Cell Engraftment and Stem Cell Recovery
Stem cell engraftment as well as stem cell recovery is a complex medical process. During the first few days after transplantation, the reinfused stem cells migrate to the bone marrow and begin the process of producing replacement blood cells, a process called engraftment. The stem cells start to produce new blood cells within 12 to 15 days following infusion. Colony-stimulating factors may be administered during this time to stimulate the process of blood cell production.
Until stem cell engraftment is complete, a transplant recipient is susceptible to infection, anemia, and bleeding caused by low blood cell counts. Therefore, special precautions are necessary during recovery. Patients may be given red blood cell and platelet transfusions during the recovery period to help prevent anemia and bleeding. For the first 2-4 weeks after the transplant, patients are very susceptible to developing infections. This is because the effects of the high-dose chemotherapy and the loss of blood cells weaken the body’s immune system. Antibiotics are often prescribed to help prevent infection.
The doctors, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team will do everything possible to ensure a successful recovery. However, patients and their family or caregivers are also active participants in the recovery process. Patients are asked to come in for frequent check-ups and tests during the early recovery period, which typically lasts about 6 weeks.
Patients who receive part of their transplant care on an outpatient basis need to stay near the treatment center so that they can be closely monitored. Some patients are admitted to the hospital during the recovery period. Patients receiving autologous transplants can expect to stay in the hospital for about 2 weeks or less following a stem cell transplant. On the average, it takes about 2 to 3 months to recover normal physical performance after an autologous procedure. However, it can take as long as a year for a patient to get back to his or her normal routine.
Because there is greater potential for adverse events following an allogeneic stem cell transplant, the recovery period is longer than that of an autograft. Allograft recipients can expect to stay in the hospital for about 4 to 6 weeks (longer in cases of graft-versus-host disease [GVHD]), with a recovery period of up to 6 months, depending on whether any late complications occur.