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How does a blood or marrow transplant (BMT) work?

A blood or marrow transplant (BMT) replaces unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones. Blood-forming cells (blood stem cells) are immature cells that grow into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. They’re found in the soft tissue inside your bones, called bone marrow. When they’re mature, they leave the marrow and enter the bloodstream.

Before transplant, you get chemotherapy (chemo) and sometimes radiation to destroy the diseased cells and marrow. Then, the healthy cells are given to you.

BMT is not surgery. The new cells go into your bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) catheter or tube. It’s just like getting blood or medicine through an IV. From there, the cells find their way into your marrow.. It can take months or years to recover from BMT. Learn more about what to expect before, during and after BMT.


Where do the healthy cells come from?

Healthy blood-forming cells used in transplant can come from 3 sources:

  • Bone marrow: Spongy tissue inside of bones
  • Peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC): Blood-forming cells from the circulating blood
  • Cord blood: The blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born

What are the different types of BMT?

There are 2 main types of transplant:

  1. An autologous transplant uses your own blood-forming cells.
  2. An allogeneic transplant uses blood-forming cells donated by someone else. The cells can come from:
    • A family member. This could be someone with closely matched human leukocyte antigens (HLA) like a sibling. Or this could be someone who matches half of your HLA, like a parent or child.
    • An unrelated adult donor or cord blood unit through the NMDP Registry

Other names for BMT

You might hear BMT called:

  • Allo (allogeneic) transplant
  • Auto (autologous) transplant
  • BMT – bone marrow transplant
  • Haplo – haploidentical, or half-matched, transplant
  • HCT – hematopoietic cell transplantSCT – stem cell transplant

Which type of transplant is best for me?

Your transplant doctor will tell you which type of transplant—autologous or allogeneic—and which source of cells is best for you. This decision is based on many factors including:

  • What disease you have and its stage
  • Your overall health

When is the best time to have a transplant?

It takes time to plan for a transplant, so your doctor may start the process early—even if you are still considering other treatments.

In general, transplants are most successful if:

  • The disease in an early stage.
  • You are in remission (no signs of disease), or there is very little disease in your body
  • Your disease has gotten better after treatment
  • You are in good overall health

What diseases can BMT treat?

A BMT can treat more than 75 diseases including:

  • Blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma
  • Bone marrow diseases like aplastic anemia
  • Other immune system or genetic diseases like sickle cell disease

Videos for kids

Animated video series for kids called Ava & Bo provides an education and understanding of bone marrow transplant and what to expect. As a child, Ava got a transplant for leukemia. Now a young teen, she shares tips and stories from her experience to help other kids needing a transplant.

We’re here to help

NMDP has a team dedicated to providing information and support to you before, during and after transplant. You can contact our Patient Support Center to ask questions you may have about transplant, request professional or peer support, or receive patient education materials. Call or email us for confidential, one-on-one support from caring experts. All of our programs and resources are free.

Call: 1 (888) 999-6743