Donating bone marrow is a relatively simple procedure that poses little risk to the donor. Complications are rare. Because the procedure is typically done under general anesthesia, it may require a one or two night hospital stay or be done as an outpatient. The donor will be required to have a complete medical examination prior to donating. Because procedures vary, the hospital where the marrow will be donated will provide the details for the donor, including any specific preparatory instructions (for example, dietary restrictions if general anesthesia is used).
From Be the Match
Bone marrow is extracted by inserting a needle through the skin into a large bone. It typically takes about an hour to remove one to three pints of marrow and blood cells, which amounts to only a small proportion (less than 5%) of the donor’s total bone marrow reserves. The harvested marrow is then processed to remove any bits of bone or other unneeded tissue and may be given immediately to the recipient or stored until the time of transplantation.
The donor should fully recover from the procedure in just a few days. Soreness or pain at the incision site is the most common problem and this can usually be treated with pain relievers. There may also be some minor stiffness or bruising. Though uncommon, a mild infection at the incision site or minor blood loss is also possible. Within a few weeks, the donor’s body will produce new marrow to replace that which was donated.
Click here for more information about how to become a donor to transplant patients in need.
The basic idea behind bone marrow/stem cell transplantation (BMT/SCT) is to allow high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to kill rapidly dividing cells in the body to make room for new, healthy cells. Cancer cells, like other cells in the body, divide rapidly. Though these treatments are among the most effective weapons against many forms of cancer, they do not have precise aim and they cannot target only diseased cells. As a result, many normal rapidly dividing cells, including stem cells, are also destroyed during the treatment. Therefore, “rescue” with transplanted bone marrow or stem cells enables the patient to produce new blood cells to replace those destroyed during treatment.
There are two main types of bone marrow or stem cell transplants: allogeneic (a donor supplies the marrow or stem cells) and autologous (the patient’s own bone marrow or stem cells are used). A syngeneic transplant is a type of allogeneic transplant of marrow or stem cells from an identical twin. Several factors determine what type of BMT/SCT a patient should have, including the type of disease, age, overall health, and availability of a donor.
Click here to learn how you can receive a copy of The Bone Marrow Foundation’s medical and educational handbooks for allogeneic and autologous transplantation. Both books are also available in Spanish.
Bone marrow is soft, spongy tissue found inside the bone. All blood starts out as stem cells, “parent cells” produced in the bone marrow. Stem cells develop into one of the three types of mature blood cells – red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets – and enter the bloodstream. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. White blood cells fight infection. Platelets cause blood to clot. The bones of the hip, chest (sternum/breastbone), and pelvis contain the largest amount of marrow and stem cells.
- Stem cells give rise to all blood cells. Each one either divides to form a new stem cell or becomes a mature red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet.
- White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are the key components of the immune system, the body’s defense against infection, viruses, and other threats. There are many different types of white blood cells, each of which plays a specific role in destroying “foreign” substances.
- Red blood cells, also called erythrocytes, contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the cells in the body.
- Platelets are sticky, disc-shaped cells that enable blood to clot properly, which prevents excess bleeding.
Some stem cells also circulate in the bloodstream. These are called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs). Improved methods for collecting and storing peripheral blood stem cells have made this an increasingly important source of stem cells for certain types of transplants (especially for autologous bone marrow/stem cell transplantation).