Press Release

An Insight into Stem Cell Transplant and Its Importance for Blood Cancer Patients

There used to be a time that blood cancer meant the end of the road for a patient. But the new era of medicine has made treatment options available for blood cancer and blood disorder patients. One such important treatment option is a blood stem cell transplant.

Last updated: 01/02/2021

There used to be a time that blood cancer meant the end of the road for a patient. But the new era of medicine has made treatment options available for blood cancer and blood disorder patients. One such important treatment option is a blood stem cell transplant.

In India, every 5 minutes someone is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer and it remains one of the leading causes of cancer-related death among children. Blood cancer arises from the malignant transformation of cells in the bone marrow or lymphatic system.

Blood cancer accounts for 8% of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in India. Despite such a huge burden, there is a lack of awareness and misconceptions in the Indian population. Most people do not know that a life-threatening disease like blood cancer can be treated and a patient can have a second chance at life with chemotherapy and other treatment options. In many cases, a stem cell transplant is the patient’s only chance for survival, especially for patients who cannot be treated with chemotherapy.

Dr. Sunil Bhat, Director and Clinical Lead, Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Blood & Marrow Transplantation, Narayana Health City said, “For a stem cell transplant, unlike a solid organ transplant, HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) matched donor is required. About 30% of the times HLA matched donors will be available within the family; however, in the rest, we have to look for a matched “unrelated” donor. Chances of finding a fully matched unrelated donor range from 1 in 20,000 to one in a million; hence, having a large pool of unrelated donors is required to be able to find a matched donor for a particular patient. Stem cell registries like DKMS-BMST recruits such unrelated voluntary donors and helps thousands of patients who require stem cell transplant.”

Harsh registered as a potential blood stem cell donor in July 2019 and he donated his blood stem cells to save a 35-year-old blood cancer patient through the peripheral blood stem cell collection process (PBSC). Describing his experience, Harsh said, “Registration is the easiest thing ever, you just have to give your cheek swab samples, sign a form and you are done. You are lucky if you come as a perfect match for a patient as it is one in a million chance. I feel proud that in just five months, I received a call from DKMS-BMST informing me that I was a possible match for a blood cancer patient. I said yes straight away to be a lifesaver. The process was similar to a blood donation and it took about 4 hours to donate my blood stem cells”.

Stem cells are transplanted to the patient just like a blood transfusion. Thereafter, they take up residency in the patient’s bone cavities and begin to form new, healthy blood cells there.

Patrick Paul, the CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India, said, “For many patients, the search for a matching blood stem cell donor is the beginning of a race against time. Our focus is always on registering as many committed donors as possible. So far, DKMS-BMST has registered over 43,000 potential donors and has helped 32 patients with a second chance at life. But, this is just the beginning!”

The risk factors for developing blood cancer include age, sex, ethnicity, family history, radiation, or chemical exposure. The risk factors vary between different types of blood cancer. A successful blood stem-cell transplant increases a patient’s survival rate by 90%.

Talking about the situation of blood cancer in India Dr. Sachin Jadhav, Group head-Hematology and BMT, HCG group of hospitals, said “the burden of blood cancer In India is huge and the treatment facilities are not available in every part of the country. It is our constant effort to create multiple centers of excellence that provide good clinical care and good outcomes of stem cell transplant even in the smaller cities. Amidst the pandemic, we have been continuing our support to blood cancer patients. We have been giving chemotherapy, supportive care, and with the help of registries like DKMS-BMST, we have conducted lifesaving stem cell transplants too. But the demand for finding a matching blood stem cell donor is too high which can only be attained if more individuals come forward and register as potential lifesavers.”

Today, more than 31 million potential unrelated donors are listed worldwide with stem cell donor centers and registries. Of which only 0.03% are Indians. This situation can only be changed by recruiting many potential stem cell donors from India.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown us all just how precious our health is and for people with blood cancer, it is even more fragile. So, if you’re between 18 and 50 and in general good health, take the first step to register as a blood stem cell donor by ordering your home swab kit at www.dkms-bmst.org/register.

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