You will need to think about the benefits and risks of this treatment very carefully before deciding to go ahead with it. A donor stem cell transplant may increase the chance of curing your cancer or leukaemia, or of getting you into remission, more than any other treatment. But, you will need to weigh this against the risks.
There have been many improvements in looking after people after a transplant but some people still have serious side effects or may die. Your specialist will talk to you about this. While this information can be upsetting to hear, your specialist needs to make sure that you’re fully aware of all the risks.
You’ll need some time to think about your decision, and you may want to talk things over with your family and friends. Most units have a nurse specialist, transplant coordinator, social worker or counsellor who you can talk to. It’s a good idea to have someone with you when talking to the hospital team. They can support you and help you with the information you've been given. You don’t need to rush into making a decision about having a transplant.
If you have questions, ask your hospital team. It’s important to have all the information you need before making your decision.
You can also choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.
Risks involved with a donor stem cell transplant
A donor stem cell transplant is a very specialised treatment. It can have many side effects and possible complications. Your doctor will consider your general health before advising you to have a transplant. There are likely to be times when you feel very unwell. It can take many months to fully recover, and some people may not get back to the same level of health they had before their transplant. The main risks include:
- serious infections and bleeding when your blood counts are very low
- graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) – if the donor’s cells attack some of your body’s tissues and organs
- the donor stem cells may not produce new blood cells (graft failure).
Your doctor can tell you more about what these side effects may mean for you.
Questions you might like to ask your doctor
- What are the benefits of a donor stem cell transplant for me?
- What are the risks?
- What are the possible long-term side effects?
- How will it affect the way I live?
- Will I still be able to have children after the treatment?
- How long will it be before I get back to my daily routine?
- What happens if the cancer comes back after my transplant?
- What may happen if I decide not to have the transplant?
- What other treatments can I have?
- Do I need the transplant now or could I have it later if my disease comes back?