Myeloma Stem Cell Transplant

Stem cell transplantation has become the front line therapy of choice in myeloma treatment, as it offers the best prognosis for those with the disease.

What is Stem Cell Transplantation?

A myeloma stem cell transplant involves the infusion of healthy stem cells into your body. Prior to receiving stem cell treatment, high-dose chemotherapy treatment kills off as many myeloma cells as possible. During this process, many healthy bone marrow cells (both stem cells and plasma cells) are also damaged. A stem cell transplantation reintroduces healthy stem cells back into your body. The stem cells divide and replace damaged stem cells.

The most common type of stem cell transplant is an autologous stem cell transplant, which uses stem cells from your own body. An allogeneic stem cell transplant uses stem cells from a donor, such as a close relative. This procedure carries more risks and is performed less frequently than an autologous stem cell transplant. A syngeneic stem cell transplant uses stem cells from an identical twin.

Myeloma stem cell transplants may be performed using stem cells removed from the blood (a peripheral blood stem cell transplant) or stem cells removed from the bone marrow (a bone marrow transplant).

What to Expect from a Myeloma Stem Cell Transplant

The first step in an autologous stem cell transplantation is stem cell collection. Prior to collection, you receive daily injections (for up to 10 days) of a growth factor that causes your body to produce extra stem cells. When blood tests indicate that enough stem cells are present in your bloodstream, blood is collected, the stem cells are separated or filtered from the blood, and the blood is returned to your body. Your stem cells are frozen while you receive high-dose chemotherapy treatment.

Just prior to stem cell treatment, your stem cells are thawed and reintroduced into your body, similar to a blood transfusion. The stem cell transplantation procedure takes three to four hours to complete. After your treatment, you may have to stay in the hospital until your blood counts begin to recover–a process that can take several weeks.

Myeloma Stem Cell Transplant Complications

While most people don’t experience any major problems with stem cell treatment, complications can arise. In rare cases, stem cell transplants can be fatal.

Complications may include:

  • Cataracts
  • Graft-versus-host disease (transplanted stem cells attack your body after an allogeneic stem cell transplant)
  • Organ damage
  • Secondary cancers
  • Stem cell (graft) failure.

You may also experience additional side effects, depending on the type of chemotherapy drug treatment you receive prior to your stem cell transplantation.

Effectiveness of Stem Cell Treatment

According to the International Myeloma Foundation’s findings (2007), the majority of patients experience a relapse within 18 to 36 months of receiving a myeloma stem cell transplant. Although stem cell treatment is not curative, studies show that, on average, patients who undergo stem cell transplantation exhibit better treatment response rates and better overall survival rates than those who undergo chemotherapy alone. Your doctor may recommend you have a second transplant within a year of your first transplant to increase treatment effectiveness.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Multiple myeloma. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003121-pdf.pdf

Cancer Research UK. (n.d.). Stem cell transplants. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/about-cancer/treatment/transplant/stem-cell-transplants

International Myeloma Foundation. (2007). Understanding stem cell transplant. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://myeloma.org/pdfs/u-stemcell_d2_web.pdf

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2010). Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stem-cell-transplant/MY00089

National Cancer Institute. (2008). Treatment. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/myeloma/page7#c3

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (n.d.). Stem cell transplant for myeloma. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.seattlecca.org/diseases/myeloma-stem-cell-transplant.cfm