Stem cell cancer treatment involves the harvesting of healthy stem cells and then transplanting them into someone who has a disease, usually cancer of the bones or blood. Stem cells are usually taken from cord blood banks, although they are being studied from other sources as well. The use of stem cell cancer treatment has been widely debated, although thanks to cord blood banking, the practice is becoming available in more locations.
Stem cells are those which have no specialized purpose, but generate and become the specialized cells of the bones, organs, tissues, blood, and other systems of the body. The developing zygote, or fertilized egg, is the prime example of stem cells since during this phase generation of new cells takes place faster than at any other time. These cells are all immature and unspecialized until the first few weeks of pregnancy have passed and they begin forming organs and other tissues.
The umbilical cord blood also contains these cells. Since the creation of and harvesting of human zygotes or embryos is opposed by many on moral grounds, cord blood harvesting and banking is becoming one of the primary sources for stem cell cancer treatment. This blood can be harvested by parents and privately stored for personal use if it is ever needed, or it can be donated and stored in a public bank. Adult stem cells from bone marrow can also be harvested and used from a live donor.
When performing stem cell cancer treatment, the cells are taken from one of the aforementioned sources and then transplanted into a patient. The healthy cells regenerate quickly and eventually replenish the body with functioning cells. Before this is done, cancerous cells are destroyed using chemotherapy treatments or radiation therapy. Stem cell cancer treatment is often reserved for patients who have not responded well to other treatments.
Patients undergoing stem cell cancer treatment often suffer from uncomfortable side effects. This is partially caused by the use of chemotherapy or radiation. Immune function may also suffer since healthy white blood cells are also destroyed at the same time cancer cells are. Success rates for treatment generally depend on the type of cancer, the age and overall health of the patient, and the stage the cancer is in.