Who needs a stem cell transplant?

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2008 more than 130,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma (cancers of blood and bone marrow). About 53,000 patients died from these diseases last year: this means that someone died from blood cancer every 10 minutes in the U.S. alone, including many children.

Similarly, in Canada (which has one-tenth the population of the U.S.) the Public Health Agency estimates that 14,100 people will be diagnosed with blood cancers in 2009, and 7,100 patients (20 people every day) will lose their battles this year.

Just as there are many different types of leukemia, so are there several ways to treat them. Initially, chemotherapy combines a series of toxic drugs in an attempt to kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells more quickly than normal ones; but make no mistake, these drugs are toxic to all cells, and their side-effects can sometimes be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself. Radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat blood cancers, but only in certain cases, and almost always in combination with other therapies. A third and often curative treatment available for patients with blood cancers is bone marrow transplantation (BMT), also known as stem cell transplantation (SCT).

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