Understanding How a Bone Marrow Transplant Treats MDS
- A bone marrow transplant is the only curative option for treating myelodysplastic syndrome.
- During a bone marrow transplant, a patient is given a high dose of chemotherapy to kill cancerous blood cells. Then the patient is infused with healthy stem cells from a family member or an unrelated donor.
- Not everyone is eligible for a bone marrow transplant. Your age, overall health and social support will be assessed prior to this treatment.
“A bone marrow transplant is a therapy where your bone marrow and your blood cells are completely replaced by someone else’s bone marrow cells and blood cells,” says Dr. Jun Choi, a hematologist-oncologist at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. “In order to do that you have to be fit and relatively young.”Read More
- Patients over the age of 70 may be ineligible for a transplant. However, being otherwise healthy and having decent physical functioning is more important than age.
- Liver disease, heart conditions or kidney disease can make it dangerous to receive a transplant.
- Patients are given a high dose of chemotherapy “to kill all your blood cells and bone marrow cells.”
- New healthy cells are infused to replace the damaged cells wiped out by the chemotherapy.
- The new healthy cells also create a new immune system, which will continue to surveil your body for signs of cancer and kill it at an early stage.
Despite this, there are new methods for giving reduced-intensity therapy, especially for older adults who have MDS. These new techniques allow doctors to consider transplantation for patients over the age of 60, as long as they are healthy otherwise and are in decent physical condition. Many patients will need to stop smoking, or make sure other medical conditions are adequately controlled, but age alone should not exclude you from being considered for a stem cell transplant.
If you are considered for transplant, your social support system is equally important. Early in your transplant evaluation, a social worker may talk with you to identify people in your life who can help take care of you during this trying time.
Your support team may:
- Help drive you to appointments several times a week
- Remind you to take medications
- Call your doctor when you are feeling ill
- Keep a close eye on you in case of emergencies
Bone marrow transplantation is a complicated and highly specialized process. If you are diagnosed with MDS, talk with your doctor to see if you would benefit from a transplant referral. See a transplant physician earlier rather than later in your disease course, because it takes time to get all the appropriate tests, coordinate the procedure, and counsel you and your family about what to expect.
Contributing: Dr. Jerry Lee