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Madhuri Vusirikala, M.D. Answers Questions On Bone Marrow Transplantation

Madhuri Vusirikala, M.D. Answers Questions On: Bone Marrow Transplantation

What are the benefits and risks of bone marrow transplantation?

Bone marrow transplant’s number-one benefit is that it offers a potential cure for many otherwise incurable diseases. Advances in technology have made the associated risks fairly manageable and statistically acceptable, and patient survival data improves every year.

The risks of bone marrow transplant are rejection, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), infection, and, in the big picture, disease relapse. This is why our team believes it’s critical to continue coming up with different ways of managing the diseases that necessitate bone marrow transplantation, of providing excellent maintenance care, and of reducing disease relapses.

What is graft-versus-host disease?

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) can occur in patients who receive allogeneic bone marrow transplants – those in which a donor’s marrow cells are transplanted. This complication sometimes happens when the transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body, and we usually treat it with immune-suppressing drugs.

What are some misconceptions about bone marrow transplantation?

The biggest misconception is that bone marrow transplantation is an end-of-the-line treatment, to be considered only when patients have become very sick. The truth is that, when possible, we prefer to transplant patients when they’re in fairly good health because it gives them the best chance for a good outcome.

This is why it’s important to meet with a transplant physician early in the course of a disease that might eventually require a bone marrow transplant – so you’ll already have a relationship with that doctor if a transplant is indicated later on.

Another misconception is that everyone who receives a bone marrow transplant dies. This is not true; the survival is very good, with most data showing a five-year survival rate of 50 percent or better.

How has supportive care improved the outcomes of bone marrow transplantation?

The growth of supportive care means that patient survival and quality of life has improved, with much less illness and side effects.

We offer supportive care and maintenance on an outpatient basis. Patients come and visit daily instead of staying for several weeks. This makes them more accountable for their own health, taking their medications, and so on, but most people would much rather do it this way than to have to stay in the hospital.