Autologous stem cell transplant

An autologous stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant, is used to treat blood cancers and disorders using your own stem cells

About autologous transplants

In an autologous stem cell transplant your own cells are used to replace cells which have been destroyed by high-dose chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy (depending on your disease).  We harvest (collect) some of your stem cells before the high-dose treatment because it destroys both cancer cells and healthy blood cells.  It also affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce stem cells and increases your risk of infection because it lowers your level of white blood cells.

Following your treatment we return (infuse) the healthy stem cells collected before your treatment back into your body.  By doing this we ‘rescue’ your bone marrow from the damaging effects of the high-dose treatment.  The infused cells start to make blood cells again and help your blood levels return to normal.  Depending on your disease, the aim of the stem cell transplant will be to prolong your remission (time when there are no signs of cancer) or cure your illness.

What happens when you have an autologous transplant

  • Stages of treatment icon plus

    High-dose chemotherapy 

    In the first stage of treatment you will receive high-dose chemotherapy, also called conditioning chemotherapy.  This chemotherapy destroys as many cancer cells as possible that are still in your body after you have completed your standard-dose treatment.  Unfortunately, it also destroys other blood cells, significantly reducing your blood count (the levels of blood cells in your blood).  Your team will see you every day and monitor you closely during the high-dose treatment.

    Stem cell infusion (return)

    The next step is to reintroduce (infuse) your stem cells, either 24 or 48 hours after the start of your last chemotherapy.  Stem cell infusion is painless and is very much like having a blood transfusion. It usually takes between one and two hours to complete.

    The infused stem cells will find their way straight back into your bone marrow. From there they begin to grow and form new blood cells, which usually takes between 10 and 14 days. 

  • How to prepare icon plus

    You will need a number of tests to make sure that you are ready for your stem cell transplant.

    These may include:

    • Routine blood tests
    • MUGA (multiple gated acquisition)
    • ECG (electrocardiogram)
    • GFR (glomerular filtration rate)
    • Lung function test (known as a pulmonary function test)
    • A bone marrow test or biopsy
    • CT scan (computerised tomography)
    • PET scan (positron emission tomography)
    • MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging)

    Your consultant will tell you what to expect and how to prepare for these tests. 

  • Afterwards icon plus

    In the days following your stem cell infusion and until the new blood cells form, you will become ‘immuno-compromised’. You may hear the nurses and doctors refer to this as being ‘neutropenic’. This means that your immune system isn’t working properly. During this time, you are at high risk of infection and other problems, such as bleeding and anaemia. The focus of our care will be to support you, and we will monitor you closely.

    From the start of treatment to the time you leave hospital after your transplant is usually between three and four weeks. Your medical team will keep you informed as your treatment progresses and when you are ready to go home they will develop a discharge plan for you. 

Autologous consultants

This is a highly complex and specialised procedure that requires a multidisciplinary team approach, and is not suitable for all patients. 

Our expert autologous transplant consultants and specialist teams are highly experienced in this procedure.

Our locations

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals.

Contact our experienced cancer team

Any questions about our cancer services or treatment? We're happy to advise you or help you book an appointment in London, Birmingham or Manchester with a cancer specialist consultant.

Call us on 

020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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