Stem Cell Transplant FAQs

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What is a bone marrow transplant?

A bone marrow transplant (BMT) or stem cell transplant can replace damaged bone marrow cells with healthy, noncancerous cells.

Where do you get healthy stem cells?

Healthy stem cells come from:

  • Your own bone marrow or blood 
  • A donor's bone marrow or blood
  • Saved or donated umbilical cord blood

How do I find a stem cell donor?

If you don’t have a relative who can donate, we can search for a donor. With over 28 million volunteer donors in the Be The Match registry, finding a match is not hard.

We'll test tissue from both you and the donor. In order for the transplant to be successful, certain markers on the blood cells and bone marrow cells must match.

Do I have to have surgery to get the stem cells?

No. The process involves infusing your bloodstream with new stem cells using a catheter or IV.

Is it easy to get a stem cell transplant?

No. While the actual procedure doesn't hurt or last long, recovery can take a long time.

If I come to UVA for treatment, how much time do I need to spend in Charlottesville?

Usually several weeks. Your team will review this with you on your initial visit.

Where can I stay during treatment if I’m traveling from out of town?

We can help you find options for places to stay.

Does my insurance cover stem cell transplant?

We have financial counselors who can walk you through your insurance and financial questions. Most insurance companies consider our program a center of excellence.

How long will does the procedure take?

The actual transplant usually takes about 30-60 minutes. However, you'll get chemotherapy before the transplant. It takes weeks to recover from this chemotherapy.

Does a stem cell transplant hurt?

You won’t feel pain during infusion of the stem cells. You may have some nausea. We have medicine to help. However, recovering from stem cell transplant can be difficult. Side effects can include anemia and a lack of immunity that can feel tiring for about 6 months.

Do stem cell transplants cure cancer?

Yes. See the list of blood cancers and disorders stem cell transplant treat.

How long does it take for a stem cell transplant to work?

It may take several weeks for the donor stem cells in the bone marrow to begin to function.

If successful, the new stem cells will produce healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

What are the side effects of a stem cell transplant?

Normal side effects of the stem cell transplant procedure can include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Infertility

Can I go home right after transplant?

No. Due to damage to your immune system from cancer treatment, you’ll be at high risk for infection. You’ll need to stay careful to avoid infection for several weeks.

How long does it take to recover?

Full recovery can take several months. You'll need to wait for the new stem cells to begin creating new blood-forming stem cells. This is also called engraftment.

Recovery time depends on the type of transplant:

  • Donated bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant can take 2-3 weeks
  • Cord blood engraftment can take 3-5 weeks
  • Self-donated stem cell transplant (autologous) takes about 10 days for recovery

During this time, we'll watch you for complications.