Stem Cell Transplants Rise Among Older Patients

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 18, 2016

Dana-Farber/New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology (DF/NHOH). Patient Shirley Clark (consent # 6228) with Garrick Johnson, PA.

Stem cell transplantation has grown among older patients largely due to the development of reduced-intensity transplants.

Stem cell transplantation following chemotherapy can extend survival and potentially cure certain advanced cancers. Although these demanding procedures were once considered too risky for older patients, advances in transplant methods are challenging that assumption.

“In transplants involving donor cells, there was concern that older patients wouldn’t be able to tolerate the high doses of chemotherapy traditionally used,” explains Joseph Antin, MD, chief of the Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC)

“Older patients were also thought to be more at risk from graft-versus-host disease,” a sometimes severe condition in which immune system cells in the transplanted tissue attack the patient’s own tissue, Antin adds.

Now, due largely to the development of reduced-intensity transplants, which use lower doses of chemotherapy than standard transplants, greater numbers of older people nationwide are getting transplants. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, for example, 1,627 patients 55 and older underwent transplants between 2011 and 2015, compared to 964 between 2006 and 2010.

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Daughter Donates Stem Cells to Honor Dad’s Successful Transplant

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 29, 2016

Lauren Marsden (daughter), Don Marsden (dad), Kelly Marsden (mom), Rachel Beaver (nurse). When Lauren Marsden signed up to be a stem cell donor during freshman orientation at college in 2010, she never thought her own father -- Don Marsden – would be diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014 and need a stem cell transplant himself at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center that November. Two years later, on her dad’s 63rd birthday – May 6, 2016 -- Lauren got the call that a match had been found for her stem cells. She donated on July 5 at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center. Here Lauren and Don pose in the Kraft Center with their mother/wife Kelly Marsden, and Kraft Center nurse Rachel Beaver, RN, BSN. Lauren and Kelly are both nurses as well. Photo by Sam Ogden.

In 2014, Don underwent a successful stem cell transplant at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Earlier this year, his daughter Lauren (pictured second from left) honored him by becoming a stem cell donor.

Contributors: Robert Schlossman, MD, and Rachel Beaver, RN, BSN of Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. Dr. Scholossman is also an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Lauren Marsden joined DKMS/Delete Blood Cancer Registry during freshman orientation at St. Anselm’s College for the same reason she majored in nursing: She wanted to help others. What she couldn’t foresee then was how this decision would intersect with her own family’s experience.

Two months after Lauren’s graduation in May 2014, her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Don Marsden required a stem cell transplant as part of his treatment at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), and Lauren’s clinical acumen and knowledge of the procedure made her an invaluable confidant during the radiation and chemotherapy that preceded his transplant, as well as the long recovery after it.

A Lifesaving Donation

This spring, six years after Lauren first signed up to be on the registry, she received a call. “They told me I was a match for someone who needed a stem cell transplant and asked if I still was willing to donate,” says Lauren, 24. “Of course I said yes right away.”

The call came on May 6, 2016 – her father’s 63rd birthday.

“After all we had been through,” says Kelly Marsden, Lauren’s mother and Don’s wife of 30 years, “it was like everything was coming full circle.”

On July 5, returning to the DF/BWCC campus where she had often accompanied her father, Lauren entered the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center to make her lifesaving donation. Any parent would be proud under such circumstances, but for Don – who continues to receive care under Robert Schlossman, MD  – it was especially meaningful.

“I know what the procedure is like, and I know how important it is,” says Don, who estimates he was sick “five days in 38 years” working for UPS at Boston’s Logan Airport. “It was tough for me to accept my diagnosis. Lauren was a great help to me, and now hopefully she’ll be a great help to someone else.”

The Marsdens praise the care Don and Lauren have received at DF/BWCC, where staff are touched by the family’s unique story. “It was a wonderful way for Lauren to honor her dad’s experience, and help someone else with her selfless act,” says nurse Rachel Beaver, RN, BSN, a member of Lauren’s stem cell donation team. “We hope her recipient does as well with her gift of life as her father has.”

Learn more about becoming a stem cell (bone marrow) donor and the transplant process. You can also make a lifesaving gift for cancer patients by donating blood or platelets at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center.

This post originally appeared on Insight, the blog of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.