Risks and Side Effects

A blood or marrow transplant is a major medical procedure that impacts the entire body and comes with a number of risks. Your care team at Siteman will design your treatment plan so as to minimize the risks you experience. They will also continue to monitor your health and progress long after you leave the hospital. Be sure to share your concerns with your physicians and care team, and they will do what they can to provide guidance and reassurance.

What are the risks of a blood or marrow transplant?

The risks of a blood or marrow transplant sound alarming, and it’s normal to be anxious. Know that everyone caring for you has assisted hundreds of other patients through the transplant process. They are well aware of the complications that can arise, and will know how to plan for the unexpected.

Here are some of the risks of a blood or marrow transplant, along with the strategies Washington University Physicians at Siteman often use to treat them.

  • Bleeding in the lungs, intestines, brain, and other areas of the body: If you experience unexpected bleeding, we have a comprehensive blood bank and can provide transfusions when needed.
  • Damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart: Our physicians are working on new ways to treat organs that have been damaged by treatment for cancer. The Cardio-Oncology Center of Excellence at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis offers innovative solutions to patients who have developed cardiovascular problems during their cancer care.
  • Delayed growth in children: We provide special support to pediatric blood and marrow transplant patients through our Late Effects Clinic, where doctors can help plan for and manage issues such as delayed growth.
  • Infertility: Our patients can consult with fertility preservation specialists, who will discuss options to help them conceive children in the future.
  • Graft failure, which means that the new cells do not settle into the body and start producing stem cells: Patients who experience graft failure may be treated with a second transplant. Immunosuppression therapy may be given to transplant patients with aplastic anemia.
  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a condition in which the donor cells attack your own body: Patients are treated with medications that can prevent GVHD or ensure that cases remain mild.

Other, less-acute risks include:

  • Anemia
  • Cataracts
  • Inflammation and soreness in the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach, called mucositis
  • Stomach problems, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting

What makes complications more or less likely?

Complications often depend on the state of the patient’s health at transplant. Patients with more severe disease and organ dysfunction, for instance, are more likely to experience complications.

In addition, the conditioning regimen used can sometime impact the likelihood of complications. Your physicians will take this into account when planning your care.

How does Siteman keep patients safe?

At Siteman, your team will prioritize your safety and well-being. Here are some of the ways we keep our patients safe:

  • We closely monitor our patients before, during, and long after the transplant.
  • We offer preventive medications to reduce the risk of complications such as graft-versus-host disease.
  • We have a large pharmacy group that ensures our patients have quick access to the medications they need.
  • An extended team of coordinators and social workers makes sure the process runs smoothly and looks after the patient’s mental and emotional health.