Q. After two recurrences of lymphoma, my oncologist is suggesting I have a bone marrow transplant. Is there financial assistance available for transplants? And I don't have any siblings so how can I find a match?
In 1956, E. Donnall Thomas performed the first successful syngeneic (genetically identical) bone marrow transplant and in 1990, he became co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work. Today, thousands of bone marrow transplants are performed at over a hundred medical centers around the U.S. While they have been tried on some solid tumor cancers, they are primarily done for blood cancers and blood disorders where they have proven to be most successful.
There are several types of bone marrow transplants: allogeneic (donor cells, “allo” means other), autologous (patient cells, “auto” means self) and umbilical cord blood transplant (umbilical cord blood saved right after birth). They are called bone marrow transplants (BMT, harvested from the bone marrow), or stem cell transplants (SCT, taken by aphaeresis).
Because many types of blood cancers are hard to cure with current treatments, transplants are used to make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill the disease, and then reinfused with their own or a donors cells to rebuild their immune system and help them recover.
While transplants have become more frequent within the last decade, with improved prognosis and better recovery, they are still costly and require advance preparation for your time in the hospital and during your recovery afterward. Many insurance carriers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover most transplant costs. Your transplant team will work closely with you to help prepare for these needs, as well as search for a donor through a national registry, if you don’t have a family match.
For more information, read The National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet, Bone Marrow Transplantation and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation. You may also contact The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) to learn more about their Be The Match Program.