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What to Expect After a Stem Cell Transplant for CLL

The early side effects of a stem cell transplant are mostly from the high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation therapy) you get before the transplant, not from the transplant itself. These should go away as you recover from the transplant. You may also experience a strange taste in your mouth from the preservative used to freeze the stem cells. These are some of the other most common early side effects. They vary based on whether the transplanted cells came from you or from a donor. Ask your doctor which side effects you can most likely expect:

  • Infections

  • Low blood cell counts

  • Bleeding

  • Low blood pressure

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Coughing

  • Fever or chills

  • Hair loss

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Mouth sores

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

Side effects may be long-lasting or appear years later. These are possible long-term side effects:

  • Bone damage, called aseptic necrosis, due to lack of blood supply

  • Developing another form of cancer

  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a condition that occurs if the immune system cells in the donor’s stem cells attack your skin, liver, gastrointestinal tract, mouth, or other organs. This is only seen with allogeneic transplants. Symptoms could include severe skin rashes with itching, yellowing of the skin, severe diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches. 

  • Lung complications related to infection, inflammation, GVHD, the use of radiation therapy, or the type of chemotherapy used pretransplant 

  • Damage to other organs, such as the heart, kidneys, or liver 

  • Lack of menstrual periods, which may indicate ovary damage and cause infertility

  • Vision problems caused by damage to the lens of the eye

  • Weight gain, which may be a sign of thyroid gland damage