Bone marrow transplantation involves the injection of healthy stem cells from a donor's bone marrow into your vein. The new stem cells travel through the bloodstream to your bone cavities. Stem cells are cells that can produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Bone marrow transplantation allows you to receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation, because it replaces cells destroyed by the various treatments. Bone marrow transplantation may be done using bone marrow either from a donor or from you.
If the transplant is successful, the newly injected cells should be free of cancer and capable of producing healthy cells.
In order for bone marrow transplants to be successful, certain markers called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) types on the donor's and recipient's blood cells and bone marrow cells must match. As the recipient, you will be given medications to suppress your immune system and prevent your body from rejecting the donor bone marrow. In the weeks prior to the bone marrow transplant, you may have intense chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to rid your body of diseased cells and to clear the bone marrow cavities for the new bone marrow. This process is called conditioning.
Removal of bone marrow from the donor, called harvesting, takes place in an operating room. A hollow needle and syringe are used to remove bone marrow from the donor's hipbone. Several punctures are made in order to harvest an adequate amount of bone marrow for transplantation—one to two quarts. The puncture wounds are then covered with bandages.
The donated marrow is filtered and then administered through a small, flexible catheter into a large vein in your chest. You receive the bone marrow in an isolation room, where you will need to stay to avoid infection until the new marrow begins to produce infection-fighting cells. It may take about a month for the donor bone marrow to begin functioning fully.
Red blood cells, platelets, or other blood components may be transfused to increase the number of red blood cells and platelets in patients who are short of breath, fatigued, or in danger of serious bleeding. During a blood transfusion, blood and blood products are infused into a vein. Donated blood must be matched to your blood type. Prior to a transfusion, your blood will be drawn to check your blood type. You may receive blood that has been irradiated to prevent the risk of graft vs. host disease. You will be monitored for any signs of an adverse reaction.
Biological therapy involves using medications or substances made by the body to increase or restore your body's natural defenses against cancer. It is also called immunotherapy. Monoclonal antibodies, cancer vaccines, and interferon are examples of biological therapy used to treat some types of lymphoma.