Treating Blood Diseases

Treatment for blood diseases depends of the type and stage of the disease; the person’s general health; and other factors. Our doctors develop a treatment plan to fit each person’s situation.

Listed here are some of the more common treatments to expect.

Bone Marrow Transplantation
Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant
Blood Transfusion
Chemotherapy

Bone Marrow Transplantation

Bone marrow transplantation or peripheral stem cell transplantation may also be used in cancer treatment. The transplant may be autologous (the person’s own cells that were saved earlier), allogeneic (cells donated by another person), or syngeneic (cells donated by an identical twin). Both BMT and PSCT provide the patient with healthy stem cells. These replace stem cells that have been damaged or destroyed by very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.

Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant

A blood and marrow stem cell transplant replaces a person's abnormal or faulty stem cells with healthy ones from another person (a donor). This procedure allows the recipient to get new stem cells that work properly.

Stem cells are found in bone marrow—a sponge-like tissue inside the bones. Stem cells develop into the three types of blood cells that the body needs:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body
  • White blood cells that fight infection
  • Platelets that help blood clot

Doctors use stem cell transplants to treat people who have:

  • Certain types of cancer, such as leukemia
  • Severe blood diseases, such as thalassemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell anemia
  • Certain immune-deficiency diseases that prevent the body from making some kinds of white blood cells

Two main types of stem cell transplants are autologous and allogenic.

For an autologous transplant, a person's own stem cells are collected and stored for use later on. This works best when a person still has enough healthy stem cells even though he or she is sick. For an allogenic transplant, a person gets stem cells from a donor. The donor can be a relative (like a brother or sister) or an unrelated person.

Stem cells used in transplants are collected from donors in several ways. They can be collected through a blood donation, directly from a donor’s pelvis or from an umbilical cord or placenta.
Stem cell transplants have serious risks. Some complications are life threatening. For some people, however, a stem cell transplant is the best hope for a cure or a longer life.

Blood Transfusion

A blood transfusion is a safe, common procedure in which blood is given to you through an intravenous (IV) line in one of your blood vessels. Blood transfusions are done to replace blood lost during surgery or a serious injury. A transfusion also may be done if your body can't make blood properly because of an illness.

During a blood transfusion, a small needle is used to insert an IV line into one of your blood vessels. Through this line, you receive healthy blood. The procedure usually takes 1 to 4 hours, depending on how much blood you need.

Blood transfusions are very common. Each year, almost 5 million Americans need a blood transfusion. Most blood transfusions go well. Mild complications can occur. Very rarely, serious problems develop.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.

Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can:

  • Destroy cancer - when chemotherapy destroys cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body and they will not grow back.
  • Control cancer - when chemotherapy keeps cancer from spreading, slows its growth, or destroys cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body.
  • Ease cancer symptoms (also called palliative care) - when chemotherapy shrinks tumors that are causing pain or pressure.

Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely. How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, the goals of treatment (whether chemotherapy is used to cure your cancer, control its growth, or ease the symptoms), the type of chemotherapy and how your body reacts to it.

You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive 1 week of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells.

Chemotherapy may be given in many ways.

  • Injection: The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
  • Intra-arterial: The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.
  • Intraperitoneal: The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries).
  • Intravenous (IV): The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.
  • Topically: The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.
  • Orally: The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.