Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) – What is it and How to prepare for it

What is a bone marrow transplant, and who can benefit from this treatment? Read about the procedure and the age factor and get the best tips from Belong Beating Cancer Together users about preparing for the procedure and improving your recovery afterward.

The Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside the bones, where the blood cells are produced. It contains stem cells that can turn into any type of blood cell: white and red blood cells as well as platelets. When the bone marrow is affected by cancer, healthy stem cells may need to be infused into the body to replace the unhealthy marrow cells. This procedure is called a bone marrow transplant (BMT) or a stem cell transplant. In certain circumstances, chemotherapy and/or radiation are administered days or weeks before the transplant.

The type of blood cells in our body:

White blood cells

The cells of the immune system that protect the body against infections. A low white blood cell count may increase the risk of infections, and if an infection develops, the body may be powerless to fight it.

Red blood cells

Contain a substance called hemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body. A low count may cause anemia and the patient might need to be transfused.

Platelets

Help the body form clots to stop bleeding. A low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) may result in spontaneous bleeding (internally and externally) or bleeding excessively in case of an injury (even a small one).

Who benefits from Bone Marrow Transplant?

The BMT procedure can benefit specific groups of patients, primarily blood cancers.  

BMT has been used to treat diseases such as:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Bone Marrow Transplant procedure 

Common types of bone marrow transplant include:

  • Autologous transplant (AUTO), using cells from your own body.
  • Allogeneic transplant (ALLO)-using another person’s (a donor) stem cells.

When the bone marrow is affected by cancer, healthy stem cells may need to be infused into the body to replace the unhealthy marrow cells. This procedure is called a bone marrow transplant (BMT), also called a stem cell transplant.

Preparation for a bone marrow transplant depends on the type of transplant, the disease that requires it, and the patient’s tolerance to specific medications.

In certain circumstances, chemotherapy and/or radiation are administered days or weeks before the transplant.

The age factor

In previous years, treatment options for elderly patients with blood cancers were limited. Recently, with more advanced medicines and fewer side effects, stem cell or bone marrow transplantation may be an option for some patients with blood cancers who are older than 60 years of age.
However, even if age is no longer a barrier to treatment options, careful considerations should be taken before making treatment decisions.

Tips from Belong’s users

At Belong Cancer, we have an attentive and supportive social network of patients and caregivers users who share their personal experiences, tips, and information.

You can join our Belongers here.

Here are some tips we collected from our Belong users about preparation for bone marrow transplant.

How to prepare for bone marrow transplant: 

  • Talk to your medical team. Prepare a list of questions and remember there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you don’t understand something – ask for clarification. Make sure to discuss issues and possible long term side effects that could affect your future, like fertility, heart conditions, etc.
  • If you smoke, you should quit smoking before you start treatment to avoid complications such as mouth sores and lung problems. Ask your doctor for guidance.
  • When packing your hospital bag, make sure you have some things that bring you comforts, like moisturizers and lip balm to alleviate dryness and also books and electronic devices to keep you busy (don’t forget the chargers and reading glasses).

Tips for preparing Your Home After BMT

Special care in preparing your home is needed. The caregiver should ensure your home is ready before your arrival home.

  • Carpets, rugs, drapes, blinds, and upholstered furniture should be shampooed or dry cleaned.
  • Floors should be washed daily.
  • Any mold and mildew in bathrooms or on tiles should be cleaned very well.
  • Remove live plants.
  • Check if your pet is allowed to stay at home. If they may, ensure litter boxes and pet are in a separate part of the house. Keep cat litter boxes away from areas where food is being prepared or eaten.

Tips for preventing Infection Post BMT

You will need to protect yourself against infection for the year or two after your transplant and maybe for longer. The first two to four weeks post-transplant are the most important. Your immune system needs a chance to recover.

  • Frequent, thorough handwashing with soap and water should become a ritual.
  • Avoid crowds and people who have recently been vaccinated for chickenpox, polio, shingles, or the flu or who have recently been ill.
  • Avoid being with people who smoke cigarettes, cigars, a pipe, or marijuana.

Tips for nutrition After a BMT

Did you know that after a BMT, you might need 50 to 60% more calories and twice as much protein in your diet? Eat high protein, high-calorie foods and consult a nutritionist for personalized guidance.

Speak to your medical team to prescribe medication if discomfort keeps you from eating.

Our Belongers have shared some excellent tips for managing eating common problems that might happen after a transplant.

  • Food should be cooked until tender and soft. If possible, eat soft foods like soups, pasteurized cheeses, Instant porridge, mashed potatoes, cooked eggs, custards, puddings, gelatin, and soft canned fruit.
  • Use a straw for soft, liquid diets.
  • Eat smoothies or milkshakes with ice cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
  • Rinse the mouth often with 1 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  • Drink clear liquids with the meals and between meals.
  • When eating, sit upright. Eating while lying flat on your back can make your nausea worse.
  • If your appetite is low, try taking a short walk or doing some light exercise, it may help to increase your appetite.

Visit our Wellness page to see how you can improve your health and vitality through nutrition education and you will also be able to find some lights excercises with our Yoga for Cancer Patients videos.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to get more information and tips for Stem cell and bone marrow transplants or share your suggestions and advice, download the Belong Cancer App. Join our social and professional communities today.

This content is provided for your general education and information only. It does not necessarily reflect Belong’s views and opinions. Belong does not endorse or support any specific product, service, or treatment.

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