Leukemia 1 |Leukemia Stem Cell Transplant



The overall survival rate of leukemia has increased greatly in recent years, largely due to improvements in treatment. From 1975 to 2005, the 5-year survival rate rose from 33 to 59 percentTrusted Source. The National Cancer Institute now lists the 5-year survival rate as 65 percentTrusted Source.

Chemotherapy is often used as the primary treatment for leukemia. But the high level of chemicals in chemotherapy drugs can damage your bone marrow, which can lead to low blood cell countsTrusted Source, bleeding, and serious infections. A stem cell transplant is a treatment option that replaces damaged stem cells in your bone marrow and allows you to receive a higher dose of chemotherapy.

In this article, we examine how stem cell transplants can help people with leukemia. We also look at its cost and effectiveness, as well as where stem cells come from.

What is a stem cell transplant for leukemia?

A stem cell transplant is also called a bone marrow transplant. It involves transplanting stem cells into your bone marrow to replace stem cells damaged during chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Stem cells are the only cells in your body that have the potential to become any other cell. Most of the stem cells in your body are found in bone marrow. Stem cells in your bone marrow become red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

The two main types of transplants are:

  • Autologous stem cell transplants. During this transplant, stem cells are collected from your blood or bone. They’re then frozen and reinfused into your blood intravenously after you receive chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy.
  • Allogeneic stem cell transplants. During this transplant, stem cells are taken from a donor, placenta, or umbilical cord. These cells will be re-infused into your blood after you receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Who is the ideal candidate for a stem cell transplant?

Many clinics have an upper age limit of 60 or 65 for performing stem cell transplants because younger patients typically have fewer complications than older patients. However, emerging evidenceTrusted Source suggests that some adults over the age of 70 should be considered. Typically, people have the best results when their cancer hasn’t spread to other tissues like the central nervous system or organs.

Other factors that may make you a good candidate include:

  • being in good overall health
  • having cancer unlikely to be successfully treated with only chemotherapy
  • having an available donor
  • having a clear understanding of the risks and benefits
What’s the stem cell transplant procedure like?

Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after a stem cell transplant.


Allogeneic stem cell treatment

Before you receive an allogeneic stem cell treatment, you’ll undergo pre-transplant treatment, which usually involves high doses of chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy. The goal of these therapies is to kill as many cancer cells as possible.

Autologous stem cell transplantation

Before autologous stem cell transplantation, you’ll receive medications that cause your body to produce more stem cells and move stem cells from your bone marrow to your bone. The stem cells will be isolated and frozen until they’re needed. You’ll then receive a high dose of chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy.

During treatment

Allogeneic stem cell treatment

About 2 days after completing pre-transplant treatment, you’ll receive your stem cell transplantation. The stem cells will be delivered through a central venous catheter, a tube inserted into a major vein until it reaches your heart. The stem cells will travel through your bloodstream and eventually reach your bone marrow.

Once there, they’ll start to produce new blood cells.

Autologous stem cell transplantation

Your frozen stem cells will be thawed and infused into your body through a major vein. You may receive medication beforehand.

Some people receive tandem transplants where they receive stem cells in multiple doses.


The time it takes for the stem cells to start producing a steady amount of blood typically takes about 2 to 6 weeksTrusted Source. You’ll likely stay at the hospital for at least several weeks. You may be given antibiotics, antiviral drugs, or anti-fungal medications after the procedure to prevent infection. Once you’re released from the hospital, you’ll likely still have daily or weekly exams and regular blood tests. It may take as long as 6 to 12 monthsTrusted Source for your blood count to return to normal.

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