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Autologous Stem Cell (Bone Marrow) Transplant

Also known as Autologous Hematopoietic Cell Transplant, Autologous HCT, or Autologous BMT

bone marrow medical illustration showing bone marrow, blood stem cells, platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells

"Auto" means "self." An autologous stem cell transplant uses healthy blood-forming stem cells from the patient. These cells are known as hematopoietic stem cells. Stem cells are made in the spongy part of bones, called bone marrow. They make all types of blood cells in the body.

What is an autologous transplant?

An autologous transplant uses a patient’s own blood-forming cells (stem cells) to replace cells that have been damaged or destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation.

Before high-dose therapy begins, the patient donates their own healthy blood-forming stem cells. The cells are processed and frozen for later use. The patient then receives chemotherapy or radiation to treat their disease. After treatment, patients receive their own stem cells to replace those that were destroyed.

The stem cells travel to the bone marrow. They grow and make healthy blood cells, including red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells.

Learn about transplants using donor cells from other people:  allogeneic stem cell transplant.

Diseases autologous transplants treat

Autologous transplants are used for certain cancers, including:

Steps of an autologous transplant

The autologous transplant process involves:

  • Pre-transplant testing and evaluation
  • Collection of stem cells (harvesting)
  • Conditioning or preparative treatment using chemotherapy or radiation
  • Infusion of the patient’s stem cells
  • Engraftment
  • Supportive care to manage side effects

Risks of an autologous transplant

Patients receive their own cells, so there is no risk that the immune system will view the transplanted cells as foreign and attack or reject them. 

Possible problems after autologous transplant include:  

  • Side effects from chemotherapy or radiation therapy used during conditioning or as part of treatment  
  • Infection because of a low white blood cell count (neutropenia)  
  • Weakness or fatigue caused by fewer red blood cells (anemia)
  • Increased risk of bleeding or bruising caused by low platelets  (thrombocytopenia)
  • Graft failure if the cells do not grow well (this is very rare) 
  • Disease relapse or progression

Taking care of your child after autologous transplant  

  • Watch for signs of infection or illness. Call your doctor if your child develops a fever or symptoms such as rash, mouth sores, bruising or bleeding, trouble breathing, headache, or other change in condition.
  • Give medicines as instructed. Let your care team know if your child has any problems taking medicines or keeping them down.
  • Your child will have a very weak immune system for weeks after the transplant. Take steps to prevent infection. Avoid public areas, wash hands often, stay away from people who are sick, and wear a mask as instructed.
  • Follow your child’s mouth care plan.
  • Make sure your child has a daily bath.
  • Encourage your child to be active throughout the day as they are able.
  • Let your care team know if you have any questions or concerns.
  • Avoid sun exposure when possible. Protect the skin from the sun and use sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher.

Key points about autologous transplant

  • An autologous transplant uses a patient’s own blood-forming stem cells.
  • Autologous transplant steps include pre-transplant testing and evaluation, conditioning, infusion, and engraftment,
  • Blood-forming stem cells are usually collected from the blood. In some cases, the cells are taken from the bone marrow.
  • After the conditioning treatment, the cells are given back to the patient through an infusion.
  • The patient’s infused stem cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to divide to make new stem cells.
  • The blood-forming stem cells become white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.

Reviewed: August 2022