Before having a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant is extremely physically and emotionally demanding. Your transplant team need to make sure you are physically well enough to cope with it. They check your general health and find out if you have any other conditions that could cause complications. They will ask you questions about your health and lifestyle, and give you advice on how best to prepare yourself. You may also see other health professionals, such as a dietitian or a physiotherapist, before you go into hospital.

Tests before a stem cell transplant

Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about the tests you need before treatment starts. These will depend on the type of transplant you are having. They will also depend on the type of cancer or leukaemia you have. Your tests may include:

  • blood tests to check your general health, such as how well your kidneys and liver are working
  • blood tests to check whether you have any infections or viruses (including hepatitis and HIV)
  • blood tests to match you with a donor, if you are having a donor stem cell transplant
  • a chest x-ray to check your lungs and heart
  • breathing tests to check how well your lungs work
  • kidney tests to see how well your kidneys are working
  • heart tests such as an ECG (electrocardiogram) or ECHO (echocardiogram) to check your heart is healthy
  • a CT (computerised tomography) scan or bone scan to check for any problems in your bones
  • a bone marrow biopsy to check that you are in remission (no active cancer cells)
  • swabs and samples to test for infection, for example from your mouth or throat
  • a pregnancy test if you are a woman and can still have children.

Coping with your feelings before a stem cell transplant

Many people have complex feelings about having a stem cell transplant. It is important that you are able to talk about how you feel. You might get this support from your family, friends, or partner. Your transplant team are also there to help you cope. They may be able to arrange for you to talk with someone who has had a stem cell transplant.

If needed, you may see a counsellor or psychologist who can help you to cope with your feelings. You could also use our Online Community to meet people who are going through similar experiences to you.

If you smoke

If you smoke, your transplant team will advise you to stop. This is because smoking increases the risk of transplant complications and long-term side effects. Stopping smoking is also important for your recovery.

We have more information about giving up smoking.

Dental care

You will be asked to visit a dentist for a check-up, and to have any dental work you need before treatment starts. Making sure your teeth or dentures are in good condition reduces the risk of problems with your mouth during treatment.

Fertility

Having a stem cell transplant may affect your ability to get pregnant or make someone pregnant (your fertility). This depends on the type of transplant you have and your age.

If you are worried about this, it is important to talk to your specialist before your treatment starts. They will explain whether your treatment is likely to cause infertility and whether this will be permanent.

Your specialist can also give you information about ways of preserving fertility. For example, before a stem cell transplant, some people may be able to store their sperm or eggs. In the future this may mean they can start a pregnancy using fertility treatments.

Work and money

If you work, you won't be able to go back straight away after your treatment. Being unable to work may affect your finances. It may be helpful to talk to one Macmillan’s benefit advisers or financial guides about help with money. Call 0808 808 00 00 to speak to an adviser.

The people you live with

After the transplant, you will be at risk of infection when you go home. If you live with other people, there may be things they can do to help protect you. For example, making sure they have the flu vaccination when it is available. They could also make sure any children living with you are up-to-date with any vaccinations.

Getting ready to go to hospital

When your treatment is planned, you can start to make practical arrangements. We have more information about things you might want to think about when getting ready for treatment.

About a week before the transplant, you will go into hospital to start conditioning treatment. You will usually be looked after in a room of your own but this can depend on the unit you are in. You will be staying in your room for at least a few weeks, so you might want to bring some things from home.

What to take

The nurses will suggest what to take to keep you busy and make you more comfortable. You could take a laptop, radio, MP3 player, audiobooks or relaxation CDs, books and magazines.

You may also be able to take films, computer games, games or a hobby, such as knitting. Many hospitals have TVs and DVD players, and some have internet access.

You can take personal things, such as photos, pictures and maybe a clean blanket or pillow.

Take some comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Soft, cotton materials are best, and tops with buttons will make it easier when you are being examined. An eye mask and ear plugs to help you to sleep can also be useful.

Ask the nurses for advice about the toiletries you should bring with you.

Having a central line or PICC

If you do not have one already, you will have a central line or PICC line put in before the stem cell transplant. This is a long, thin plastic tube that goes through the skin into a vein in your chest. The tube stays in place during your treatment. It can be used to:

  • collect blood samples
  • give you chemotherapy and other drugs, such as antibiotics
  • give you the stem cells
  • give you fluids
  • give you blood and platelet transfusions.

Visiting the transplant unit

You can usually visit the unit before your transplant to give you an idea of what to expect. It is a good idea to take a relative or friend with you. During the visit, you can meet and talk to the team who will be looking after you. They will tell you what to expect and give you advice on preparing for your transplant.

Teenagers and young adults

Some hospitals have teenage and young adult cancer units (sometimes called TYA units). You will be with other people your own age and cared for by people who are used to working with teenagers and young adults.

There may be internet access, a computer, games consoles, DVDs and music to help you feel more at home. Sometimes education specialists come to support you with your studies while you are having treatment.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
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Online community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
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What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.