The statistics are alarming. One person every three minutes is diagnosed with this extremely severe form of cancer – one that affects the blood cells which produce tissues. Blood cancer.
Blood cancer is the type of cancer that affects the blood cells producing tissues including bone marrow and the lymphatic system. It initiates in the soft tissue of the bone called the bone marrow. Since bone marrow is responsible for producing red blood cells, white blood cells, and the platelets, our body cannot afford to fight infections with the diseased blood components. This makes blood cancer one of the most serious ones and sadly, it is estimated that one person suffers from blood cancer in every 3 minutes.
From traditional treatment therapies to bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy to radiotherapy, science has come a long way hunting for the most effective treatments. Amongst these, bone marrow transplantation has been proved to be the real savior. However, in most of the cases, chemotherapy and radiotherapy compliment the bone marrow transplant strategy.
Let’s unveil the “savior therapy” – bone marrow transplantation.
Bone marrow transplantation
Bone marrow transplant is the medical procedure in which the diseased or damaged bone marrow is replaced by a healthier one. The procedure involves transplantation of blood stem cells that leads to the formation of new bone marrow, thereby replacing the diseased one. The source of these stem cells can either be patient’s own body or a healthy donor. Prior to the transplantation step, these stem cells are harvested and chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is given to the patient.
Risks involved in bone marrow transplantation
Bone marrow transplantation is a major medical procedure that results in the short term as well as long term complications.
The short lived side effects may include (but not limited to)
- Lowered blood pressure
- Headache, nausea, and fever with chills
- Chest pain and shortness of breath Depending on the age and overall health of the patient and his blood’s compatibility with the donor and so on, the long term complications may vary. However, some of the most common ones are
- Internal bleeding in the vital organs such as lungs, intestine, and brain.
- Graft failure and Graft-versus-host disease – a medical condition in which the transplanted donor cells attack the patient’s body.
- Clotting in the veins of liver and damage to kidneys, lungs, and heart.
- Early menopause
- Clouding in the lens of eyes leading to cataract
- Inflammation and soreness in the mouth called mucositis.
Other treatment options
As mentioned before, much has been explored on the treatment part of the blood cancers and broadly, the available treatment options can be grouped under chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to block the proliferation of cancer cells while radiotherapy is the use of high energy waves to eliminate the cancer cells and/or reduce the symptoms.
Is bone marrow transplantation the final treatment?
Yes, as per medical oncologists, unfortunately, bone marrow transplant is the last recourse for some patients. Despite the risks and complications that it comes along, more often than not, bone marrow transplantation is the final treatment for blood cancer. However, if diagnosed at initial stages, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can turn up to be quite effective but that is a rare case. This is so because getting the blood cancer diagnosed at early stages is itself a rare scenario. By the time the disease is diagnosed, the severity calls for some major treatment options such as bone marrow transplantation. So, the answer revolves around the stage at which cancer has been detected and the severity of the disease. One of the noted medical oncologists in Mumbai, Dr Suresh Advani has been a pioneer in establishing bone marrow transplant in India and can be consulted at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai