The role of bone marrow
Marrow is the soft tissue inside bones that produces blood-forming cells. Blood-forming cells are immature cells that can grow into red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.
- Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body
- White blood cells help fight infections
- Platelets help control bleeding
What is a bone marrow transplant
Healthy marrow and blood cells are needed to live. Disease can affect the marrow’s ability to function. When this happens a bone marrow or cord blood transplant could be the best treatment option. For some diseases, transplant offers the only potential cure.
A bone marrow or cord blood transplant replaces unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones. Blood-forming cells are also called blood stem cells. Blood stem cells are immature cells that can grow into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
There are two types of transplant. An autologous transplant uses your own cells which are collected from the bloodstream and stored for your transplant. An allogeneic transplant uses cells from a family member, unrelated donor or umbilical cord blood unit.
There are three sources of blood-forming cells used in transplants:
- bone marrow
- peripheral (circulating) blood (also called peripheral blood stem cell or PBSC)
- umbilical cord blood collected after a baby is born
If you need a transplant, you will be referred to a doctor who specializes in bone marrow transplants. Your transplant doctor will talk to you about the type of transplant and cell source that is most likely to work best for you based on your disease and other health factors.
How a transplant works
An autologous transplant is a way to treat cancer using very high doses of chemotherapy that destroy the bone marrow as a side effect. The autologous blood cells replace the damaged marrow. This is how autologous transplants are used to fight certain types of cancers such as lymphoma.
An allogeneic transplant also treats cancers of the blood, and offers the added benefit of using the donor’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Allogeneic transplant is also used to treat some non-cancerous diseases such as sickle cell anemia. In non-cancerous diseases, the transplant replaces defective marrow cells with the donor’s healthy cells.
Be The Match® support and resources
Be The Match® connects patients who do not have a marrow match in their family with volunteer donors from around the world. But, we also have educational resources and support available to all patients in need of a bone marrow transplant, even if your transplant is autologous or your donor is related to you.
Be The Match® can help you learn more about how a transplant works.