Cord Blood Transplant for Blood Cancers

Some blood cancer patients can benefit from a stem cell transplant. This type of transplant infuses stem cells from a donor’s bone marrow or peripheral blood.

These approaches aren't always suited for every patient.

But, some people with certain types of blood cancers — such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma — may be good candidates.

What Is a Cord Blood Transplant?

When a baby is born, doctors can collect the blood from the umbilical cord and placenta.

This blood — called a cord blood unit — has a high number of blood-forming stem cells that doctors can use for transplantation.

The blood does not come from the baby. The baby’s family donates it, and it comes only from the cord and the placenta.

Cord blood banks test and freeze the blood for future use.

When a person with cancer needs a cord blood unit, human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing may reveal a match.

Benefits of Cord Blood Transplant

Cord blood transplant has many advantages.

It's versatile. The match doesn't have to be as close as the match required for a successful bone marrow transplant. This loose match means that a transplant complication — called graft-versus-host disease — occurs less frequently using cord blood than it may using peripheral blood stem cells.

And — since the cord blood bank already collected and froze the blood — this approach is fast and convenient.

UPMC CancerCenter partners with the National Marrow Donor Program® to register people who need a cord blood donor match.

Cord Blood Transplant Process

UPMC has a long and rich history of successful tissue, organ, and blood transplantation. For decades, we’ve pioneered innovative approaches to the challenge of making the most of the donated tissues at hand.

Our experts at UPMC CancerCenter are leaders in cord blood transplantation for treating blood cancers.

From initial consults to testing, infusion, and follow-up, the transplant process is complex.

Your treatment team — including transplant surgeons — will work together to guide you through it. And, your transplant coordinator will make sure we answer all of your questions.

Generally, the process begins during your blood cancer treatment, when testing may point to cord blood transplant as an option.

Before the transplant, you'll receive high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This kills the existing bone marrow that's producing cancerous cells.

After your chemo and radiation pretreatment is complete, your doctor will infuse you with the healthy blood cells through a central line. 

Over time — typically two to four weeks — the stem cells will restore your body's blood cells.

The donated cells travel through your bloodstream and settle in your bone marrow, where they will grow and make new blood cells.

If the transplant is successful, your blood cell counts will begin to rise. This increase in healthy blood cells will boost your immune system and help your body fight cancer at the source.

Side Effects of Cord Blood Transplantation for Blood Cancer

Every treatment approach to cancer can cause side effects.

For cord blood transplant, side effects can include:

  • Bleeding
  • Cataracts
  • Graft-versus-host disease
  • Hormonal changes
  • Infection
  • Infertility
  • Lung inflammation
  • Mouth and throat pain
  • Nausea
  • Organ damage

Your blood cancer transplant team will take every precaution to increase the chance of a positive outcome. We’ll also work to help you cope with the discomfort of any side effects.

Contact Us About Cord Blood Transplant for Blood Cancer

Contact UPMC CancerCenter about blood cancer treatment by calling 412-647-2811.

To reach the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC CancerCenter, call 412-864-6600.