A bone marrow transplant is the process of replacing unhealthy bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Since bone marrow is where new blood cells are made, it is very important to have healthy bone marrow to fight disease. Many diseases are treated with bone marrow transplants, including many forms of cancer, chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, severe aplastic anemia, inherited immune system disorders and Hurler's syndrome.
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Bone marrow transplants may be used to treat patients with certain types of cancer. Because cancer cells divide quickly, bone marrow needs to be healthy in order to defeat cancer.
Understand what bone marrow is. Bone marrow is made up of 3 parts: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Know that red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body to living tissues.
Realize that white blood cells are part of the immune system, which helps the body to fight cancer and other diseases.
Comprehend that platelets are what enable blood to clot when you have a nosebleed or an open wound. Bone marrow needs all 3 cells to be in full working order and to successfully ward off cancer.
Explore bone marrow donation to help someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. Transplantable bone marrow can come from a donor or from the patients themselves. Bone marrow is harvested from the hipbone of the donor, who is under general anesthesia in an operating room. The bone marrow is then examined and the T-cells are removed so that the body will not attack the marrow as foreign.
Understand that a set procedure must be followed to properly treat cancer with a bone marrow transplant. Pre-conditioning must occur, which is the process of killing all of the diseased bone marrow to make way for the new marrow. Pre-conditioning also suppresses the immune system so that it won't kill the new healthy marrow when it arrives.
Consider that pre-conditioning consists of either chemotherapy or radiation treatments or both. One or both of them is necessary in pre-conditioning, so that the cancerous marrow is adequately destroyed.
Realize that actual bone marrow transplants are not surgery, but are more like blood transfusions. The bone marrow is transplanted through the central venous line into the patient. It can take from 1 to 2 hours for the transplant to be completed.
Find out about clinical trials and bone marrow success rates at the American Cancer Society Web site (see Resources below).