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What is multiple myeloma (MM)?

MM is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of blood cells. Normal plasma cells help your body fight infections. In MM, the unhealthy plasma cells don’t fight infections very well. They can also weaken bones and damage kidneys.

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How does blood or marrow transplant (BMT) work for MM?

BMT, also known as a bone marrow transplant or blood stem cell transplant, can be used to treat patients who have MM. It replaces the unhealthy blood-forming cells (stem cells) with healthy ones. For most patients, transplant delays the MM coming back (relapse).

There are 2 types of transplant for MM:

  • Autologous transplant uses the patient’s own blood-forming cells, which are collected and stored for later use.
  • Allogeneic transplant uses healthy blood-forming cells from a family member, unrelated donor, or umbilical cord blood.

Both types of transplants are used to treat MM, but autologous is more common. For some patients, allogeneic transplant may be used in a clinical trial if a patient has high-risk disease or if the disease returns after an autologous transplant.

For both types of transplant, first you get chemotherapy (chemo), with or without radiation, to kill the unhealthy cells. Then, the replacement cells are given to you through an intravenous (IV) catheter. The cells travel to the inside of your bones and begin to make healthy blood cells.

The entire process, from the start of chemo or radiation, until hospital discharge, can last weeks to months. This is followed by many months of recovery near the transplant center and at home. The transplant team will closely care for you to prevent and treat any side effects or complications.

When should I see a transplant doctor?

You should see a transplant doctor:

  • At diagnosis or soon after starting treatment for MM
  • If the MM is getting worse

Your first appointment with a transplant doctor

At your first appointment, the transplant doctor will:

  • Review your medical history
  • Talk with you about your treatment options
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of transplant
  • Recommend the best time for you to get a transplant and prepare for treatment
  • If an allogeneic transplant is needed, a donor search may be started even if you don’t need a transplant right away. This can help you get a transplant faster if it’s needed later

Questions to ask your doctor

Ask questions so you understand your treatment options and can make decisions that are best for you. Questions you may want to ask include:

  • What are my chances of a cure or long-term remission if I get a transplant? If I don’t get a transplant?
  • What are the risks of waiting or trying other treatments before a transplant?
  • Does my current health or age affect how well transplant might work for me?
  • What are the possible side effects of transplant? How can they be reduced?
  • How might my quality of life change over time, with or without transplant?

 Learn more about planning for transplant

Most recent medical review completed March 2017.