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Stem Cell Transplant: Before Your Procedure

What is a stem cell transplant?

Stem cells are special cells in the bone marrow that make red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and more stem cells. A stem cell transplant is also known as a bone marrow transplant. It replaces damaged stem cells with healthy ones.

If your bone marrow is damaged or destroyed, it can't make normal blood cells. It becomes harder to stay healthy.

You may need a stem cell transplant if you have a disease that damages or destroys the bone marrow. Lymphoma and leukemia are two of the diseases that can damage bone marrow. Bone marrow also may be damaged by radiation or chemotherapy.

The stem cells may come from your own blood or bone marrow, or they could come from another person.

  • If the stem cells are yours, the transplant is called autologous. You may be able to have all or part of your treatment in a clinic. If you need to be in the hospital, you may stay for up to 3 weeks.
  • If the stem cells come from another person, the transplant is called allogeneic. You will need to be in the hospital. You may need to stay for 4 weeks or longer.

How do you prepare for the procedure?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your procedure. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your procedure may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of the procedure, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your procedure. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The doctor will put a tube called a catheter into a vein in your chest. The stem cells flow through the catheter into your blood and bone marrow. The stem cells will start to make new cells in 1 to 3 weeks. During this time:
    • You may be kept away from other patients. This is to help prevent infection. You may also get antibiotics to prevent or treat infection.
    • Your blood will be tested often to check the levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
    • You may need several transfusions of blood cells and platelets until your body starts to make its own.
    • You may need to limit visitors and avoid having flowers in your room.
    • You may need to avoid eating certain foods, such as salads.
  • The infusion may take several hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your procedure.
  • You become ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the procedure.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.