What is Bone Marrow?
Bone marrow is a spongy tissue found inside bones. The bone marrow in the breast bone, skull, hips, ribs and spine contains stem cells that produce the body’s blood cells. These blood cells include white blood cells (leukocytes), which fight infection; red blood cells (erythrocytes), which carry oxygen to and remove waste products from organs and tissues; and platelets, which enable the blood to clot.
What Is Bone Marrow Transplant?
Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is a medical procedure being used to treat diseases once thought incurable. Since its first successful use in 1968, BMT has been used to treat patients diagnosed with leukemia, aplastic anemia, immune deficiency disorders, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkins Lymphomas, Hodgkin’s Disease and some solid tumors.
In patients with leukemia, aplastic anemia, and some immune deficiency diseases, the stem cells in the bone marrow malfunction, producing an excessive number of defective or immature blood cells or low blood cell counts. The immature or defective blood cells interfere with the production of normal blood cells, accumulate in the bloodstream and may invade other tissues. A bone marrow transplant enables physicians to treat these diseases with aggressive chemotherapy and/or radiation by allowing replacement of the diseased or damaged bone marrow after the chemotherapy/radiation treatment.
The Transplant Procedure
A day or two following the chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, the transplant will occur. The bone marrow is infused into the patient intravenously in much the same way that any blood product is given. The transplant is not a surgical procedure. It takes place in the patient’s room, not an operating room. Patients are checked frequently for signs of fever, chills, hives and chest pains while the bone marrow is being infused.
Life After Transplant
It can take as long as a year for the new bone marrow to function normally. Patients are closely monitored during this time to identify any infections or complications that may develop. Despite the fact that the transplant can be a trying experience, most find that the pleasure that comes from being alive and healthy after the transplant is well worth the effort.