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Bone Marrow Transplants: An Overview



A bone marrow transplant is a procedure in which damaged or diseased bone marrow stem cells are replaced with healthy bone marrow. Marrow, which is the soft, spongy tissue found inside bones, plays a key role in the body’s production of red blood cells, and is also essential to healthy immunity. When marrow becomes damaged, which can be the result of disease or exposure to toxins, a transplant may be necessary in order to protect health.

Marrow transplants are performed for a number of different reasons and are designed to stimulate the healthy new growth of stem cells. The most common reasons for performing these types of procedures include the following:

  • Following chemotherapy and/or radiation. These types of cancer treatments often damage marrow, leaving it unable to function properly. However, chemotherapy and radiation increase the effectiveness of bone marrow transplants in that they eradicate as much cancer as possible prior to the transplantation. This will further increase the chances of healthy stem cell reproduction. In most cases, healthy bone marrow is collected from the patient prior to chemo or radiation therapies, then transplanted once cancer treatments are completed.
  • In cases of leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and aplastic anemia. Diseases like these cause damage to bone marrow, which impairs its production of blood cells. In these cases, since the patient’s marrow is affected by the disease, bone marrow is collected from a donor.
  • In cases of various illnesses and health conditions. In addition to leukemia and certain types of anemia, bone marrow transplants may be performed in order to prevent further damage due to complications arising from conditions such as kidney failure, metabolic disorders, immune deficiencies, and certain types of tumors.

Basically, there are two types of procedures used in the transplantation of bone marrow. They include the following:

  • Autologous marrow transplant. In these types of procedures, marrow is collected from the person receiving the transplant. Typically, autologous transplants are performed following certain types of cancer treatments.
  • Allogenic marrow transplants. The most common type of marrow transplantation procedure, allogeneic transplants involve the use of donor bone marrow. In order for these types of procedures to be effective, donors and recipients must share a similar genetic makeup. For this reason, siblings and other close relatives are ideal donors; however, it is not uncommon for these procedures to involve unrelated donors and recipients.

Prior to having a bone marrow transplant, the patient undergoes extensive testing in order to maximize the procedure’s effectiveness. This typically includes a full physical evaluation, including age, overall health, diagnosis, prognosis, and information regarding the patient’s opinions and expectations.

Although bone marrow transplants are performed all over the world, many patients choose to undergo these procedures abroad. For example, due to factors such as cost-effectiveness and shorter waiting periods, bone marrow transplants in Mexico are becoming increasingly common. Like those in the United States, transplantation procedures in Mexico are performed in order to improve and protect health as well as increase overall well-being and quality of life.