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September 26, 2005

Five Common Misconceptions about Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplants by The World's Most Transplanted Person
Mark Patton

Astonishingly, there are now millions of people in the United States who have diseases that are treatable with bone marrow or stem cell transplants. That's right, millions. Sadly, there are only about 50,000 transplants done every year.

There are three main reasons more patients aren't taking advantage of these life-saving procedures:
1.Millions of patients don't even know they are transplant candidates.
2.Millions of candidates have an unfounded fear of these procedures.
3.Most patients are unaware of the vast amount of resources available to help them physically, emotionally, and financially.

By clearing up a few common misconceptions about bone marrow transplants (BMTs) and peripheral blood stem cell transplants (PBSCTs), thousands of lives can be saved each year. So let's get started debunking some of the major misunderstandings.

Misconception: BMTs and PBSCTs are relatively new and are still experimental.
Facts: The Web site provides the following timeline for transplants:
1956: First syngeneic BMT (using an identical twin donor) performed by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas in Cooperstown, New York.
1968: First transplant using a related donor (sister) done by Dr. Robert Good on four-month-old boy with severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome.
1973: First BMT using an unrelated donor carried out by a team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Not included in this timeline are autologous transplants (patients who use their own marrow). Work on these procedures started in the early 1970s.

Misconception: Stem cell transplants are controversial from an ethical stand-point.
Fact: The two major categories of stem cells are adult and embryonic. All BMTs and PBSCTs used to treat cancer are adult stem cells. They either come from the patient (autologous transplant) or from a donor (allogeneic transplant).

Misconception: BMTs and PBSCTs are very risky.
Fact: There is, of course, some risk involved with these procedures. However, if they weren't relatively safe, there wouldn't be nearly 50,000 BMTs and PBSCTs done each year. Autologous transplants are safer because there's no chance of developing Graft-vs.-Host Disease, a condition in which the donated marrow or blood cells attack the patient's immune system. Not to worry, almost 60% of all transplants use the patient's own cells.

Misconception: I'm too old to do a transplant.
Fact: Many transplant patients are in their 50s and 60s. In fact, the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry reports that 53% of all autologous transplant patients are older than 50, with 20% of that group being older than 60.

A fairly new procedure called a mini-transplant isn't as physically challenging and is well suited to older patients.

Misconception: They aren't doing transplants for my particular disease or condition.
Fact: The National Marrow Donor Program ( lists over 70 diseases that are treatable with transplants. Some of their major disease categories include Leukemias, Myelodysplastic Syndromes, Stem Cell Disorders, Myeloproliferative Disorders, Lymphoproliferative Disorders, Phagocyte Disorders, Inherited Metabolic Disorders, Histiocytic Disorders, and Inherited Immune Disorders.

Other diseases for which transplants are being used are testicular cancer, aplastic anemia, melanoma, high-grade gliomas, neuroblastoma, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, prostate cancer, Ewing's Sarcoma, lung cancer, brain tumors, lupus, Chron's Disease, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.

Talk to your doctor about current clinical trials being conducted that might benefit you. You can also visit the National Institutes of Health Web site at and review their database of clinical trials.

There you have it. If you think you might be a marrow or stem cell transplant candidate, talk it over with your doctor. Make every effort to see a doctor that specializes in your disease. He or she will be more up-to-date on the treatment options that will benefit you the most.

Best of luck and see you in remission.

Mark Patton has had five bone marrow and stem cell transplants over the past 14 years to treat his multiple myeloma. He has just published a book entitled “Over 140 Things You Need to Know about Your Autologous Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant”. The book is available on his Web site at You can email Mark at

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