Autologous Stem Cell Transplants

This video explains the steps in an autologous stem cell transplant.

This short animated video explains what to expect when undergoing an autologous stem cell transplant.

To watch this video in Spanish Click here

Created by Blood and Marrow Transplant Information Network (BMT InfoNet)

Medical Advisors: Joseph Antin MD; Michael R. Bishop MD; Neena Kapoor MD; Joanne Kurtzberg MD; Navneet Majhail MD, MS; Steven Paveletic MD; Marcie Riches MD, MS; Rainer Storb MD; John Wingard MD

Script Writers and Editors: Susan K. Stewart and Lynne Spina

Illustrations: Norm Bendell

Animation: John Ryan and Luccas

Producer:  Peter Barg, Z Animation​

Run time:  4 minutes

Transcript of video:

Do you have questions about stem cell transplants?

Why an autologous stem cell transplant?

Sometimes a patient can't be cured by the amount of chemotherapy or radiation normally used to treat your disease. Higher dosages of chemotherapy or radiation can improve your chance for a cure or longer life, but it will also destroy important cells in your bone marrow called blood stem cells.

Without these stem cells, your body cannot produce blood cells to fight infection, get oxygen to vital organs, or stop bleeding. An autologous stem cell transplant rescues you from these serious side effects.

Step one is to collect your blood stem cells. Here's how it works.

You will receive medication over several days to move blood stem cells out of your bone marrow into your bloodstream where they can be easily collected.

When it is time to collect or harvest the stem cells, you will sit in a comfortable chair for several hours. Blood will be withdrawn from a vein in your arm or from a catheter that is surgically inserted into a large vein in your chest. Your blood will pass through a special machine that removes your stem cells and returns the rest of your blood to you.

Your stem cells will then be frozen. It typically takes one to four days to collect enough stem cells for transplant.

Step two: Preparing for transplant.

The next step is called the conditioning or the preparative regimen. This may take place in the outpatient clinic or in a hospital room. Over one to 10 days, you'll receive high dose chemotherapy to destroy your disease.

Step three: The transplant.

A day or two later, the transplant will occur. The transplant is not an operation. Rather, while you're awake, your stem cells will be infused into you, much like a blood transfusion. The process typically takes 30 to 60 minutes.

Step four: Recovering from transplant.

The next two to three weeks will be a critical time. Until your stem cells begin producing new healthy blood cells, you will be very susceptible to infection and bleeding. Your healthcare team will carefully monitor you for these and other possible problems.

During this time, you may feel extremely tired, sick and weak. Nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and mouth and throat sores are common.

Step five: Going home.

Once your stem cells begin producing healthy blood cells, you will be discharged from the hospital or outpatient clinic, provided there are no other complications. It will take several weeks or months for you to recover and resume a routine.

You will visit the clinic frequently for several weeks after your transplant to check your progress and address any problems that may arise. Your doctor may suggest additional medications after transplant to help keep your disease under control.

Step six: Coping with stress.

An autologous transplant can be very stressful for both you and your loved ones. It's normal to need help to cope with the stress. Ask your transplant team about counselors and other programs that can help you.

Despite the difficulties, thousands of people are enjoying a second chance at life today thanks to an autologous stem cell transplant.

Do you want to learn more about stem cell transplants?

Visit for more details on what to expect before, during, and after a stem cell transplant.

Many thanks to Sanofi Genzyme for their support of this project.

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