Bone Marrow Transplantation

Bone marrow, is the spongy tissue found inside our bones. Bone marrow contains immature, undifferentiated cells, called stem cells, which develop into three main types of cells found in the body:

  • Red Blood Cells that deliver oxygen and take away the waste product carbon dioxide.
  • White Blood Cells that protect the body from infection.
  • Platelets that help blood clot.

Because of the importance of these cells, having a healthy bone marrow is an extremely important part of maintaining a healthy body.

Unfortunately, Lymphoma can spread to the bone marrow, so this is one area that doctors may want to examine to see whether any cancer is present.

Bone marrow is obtained by numbing the skin, tissue, and surface of the bone with a local anesthetic, and then inserting a thin needle into a large bone (such as the pelvis) and withdrawing a small sample. The procedure can be briefly painful at the moment when the marrow is withdrawn.

When lymphoma cells are not totally destroyed by standard doses of chemotherapy, the disease will recur (relapse). At this stage, it may still be possible to eliminate the cancer cells by using very high doses of chemotherapy. However, during this treatment, bone marrow may be destroyed, and a transplant of bone marrow or stem cells may be required to replace those destroyed by chemotherapy.

A key to the success of a transplant is the availability of suitable stem cells. At the current time, there are two main sources of stem cells:

Allogeneic Sources: is where patients receive bone marrow or stem cells donated by another person who is suitably compatible.

Autologous Sources: is where patients receive their own cells. That is, healthy stem cells were removed and stored before chemotherapy treatment was started.

Autologous bone marrow transplantation is far more common than Allogeneic because it is much less toxic.

Image: Medical Art Service, I. Christensen, Wellcome Images. Bone Marrow.

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