The decision to undergo a blood stem cell transplantation is a serious undertaking. A great deal of planning goes into developing an individualized treatment plan just for the patient. The process starts with a consultation and continues through the path of finding a donor, receiving the transplant, recovery and follow-up. In total, the transplant process can take many months to a few years.
Biological siblings have a 1 in 4 chance of being a genetically compatible stem cell donors for the patient. If a brother or sister doesn’t provide a match, the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry is searched for an unrelated donor that matches the patient. If there is no ideal match within Canada, the search is extended to international registries.
Prior to receiving the donor’s cells, the patient undergoes chemo or radiation therapy prior to the transplant to kill cancer cells and suppress the immune system to avoid rejection of the new stem cells. In the months following the transplant, patient red and white blood cells and platelets are low. They are at high risk of developing infection and must be closely monitored while staying in isolation. Gradually, blood counts increase and the immune system naturally recovers. Full recovery and a return to normal activities typically takes more that 1 year.