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Considering a Stem Cell Transplant for Multiple Myeloma?

TreatmentAugust 2019

Following a multiple myeloma diagnosis, your doctor may mention the possibility of a stem cell transplant (SCT). You may have heard of the term before, but unless you or a loved one have received an SCT, you may be unfamiliar with the process.

Following a multiple myeloma diagnosis, your doctor may mention the possibility of a stem cell transplant (SCT). You may have heard of the term before, but unless you or a loved one have received an SCT, you may be unfamiliar with the process.

What is a stem cell transplant?

A stem cell transplant may offer someone with multiple myeloma, who is thought by their medical team to be a good candidate, the chance to achieve a long-lasting remission. The treatment involves receiving high-dose chemotherapy—and possibly radiation— to kill all the cells in the bone marrow, including the multiple myeloma cells. After that, new blood-creating stem cells are infused into the body, so the bone marrow can once again make healthy blood cells.

Are you a candidate?

Your doctor will help determine whether you are the type of patient that would benefit from this procedure based on a number of factors, including your age. Younger people, and those in the earlier stages of the disease, often have better results with transplants. If a stem cell transplant is considered a possibility for you, you may be encouraged to have stem cells collected from your blood and stored for future use.

What are the different types of transplants?

There are two different types of SCTs. An autologous transplant is when the stem cells used come from the patient’s own body. In an allogeneic transplant, the stem cells come from a donor, often a close relative.

In most cases, people being treated for multiple myeloma will have an autologous transplant, because there are fewer risks.

What are the steps involved in receiving a stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplants can involve several steps.

  1. Primary therapy. Usually, a stem cell transplant takes place after the patient is treated with a standard chemotherapy regimen to reduce the number of unhealthy cells in the bone marrow. This is done on an outpatient basis.

  2. Stem cell collection. The patient will have their stem cells collected, or “harvested,” over a period of a few days. To stimulate the production of stem cells, patients will be asked to take medication.

  3. High-dose chemotherapy. Sometimes referred to as “conditioning” treatment, this part of the procedure can last for a week or two. Depending on the treatment center, patients may be hospitalized, or they may be asked to stay close to the hospital to facilitate daily treatments.

  4. Transplant: After a couple of days of rest, the stem cells that have been collected and stored will be infused back into the body. It is typically painless. Some patients may receive more than one infusion.

    There may be a few side effects from the infusion, which are mostly caused by the chemicals used to preserve the stem cells. They are most often mild and should fade away after a few days.

  5. Recovery. Just like with any procedure, recovery can be a process, too. After the transplant, a patient’s immune system may take six months to a year to fully recover as new stem cells gradually generate enough blood cells to create normal blood counts. For that reason, patients are at an increased risk of infection and will need to take extra precautions. Depending on the hospital or transplant center, the patient may be in the hospital during some of this time, or may be visiting a transplant center often for monitoring.

    Emotional and physical recovery from a stem cell transplant can take a considerable amount of time, during which the patient will be closely followed by their medical team. If you choose this difficult but possibly life-lengthening treatment, it’s important to seek and receive strong support from family, friends and your healthcare providers.

Is a stem cell transplant the right choice for you?

Every patient is different, which is why it’s critical to have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have, as well as what you would most like to achieve with treatment. These “treatment goals” can help define the best course of action for your disease.

Together, with your doctor, you’ll decide what’s the best next step for you.