Relapse after a Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant

Transplant provides hope for a cure, but it is possible that the disease will return after transplant.

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Sometimes a patient's disease comes back after transplant. This is called relapse.

For some, relapse is an expected event.  Patients with multiple myeloma, for example, who were transplanted with their own stem cells, know that their disease will eventually return. The objective of the transplant is to prolong their life and slow the progression of their disease.

How Big is the Risk of Relapse after Transplant?

Your risk of relapse depends on a number of factors:

  • the type and stage of your disease prior to transplant
  • the number of years since transplant
  • the type of transplant you had

Although there is no magic number that defines when you can consider yourself cured, in general, the more years that have passed since your transplant, the greater the likelihood that you have been cured.

Treatment Options after Relapse

For many patients, there are treatment options if relapse occurs:

  • A donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI), also called a donor leukocyte infusion, can put some patients back into remission.
  • For others, another transplant may be an option.
  • Newer therapies, such as CAR T-cell therapy, may be an option. 
  • You may also have an opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial that is testing a new drug or other therapy.

You and your doctor should thoroughly examine your options, so you can make a choice that is right for you. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion from another medical expert. Different institutions sometimes have different treatment options to offer patients.


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Next Page: Life after Transplant

Updated August, 2023