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Stem cell transplant complications

Anthony Nolan Patients and Families 13.05.16, Photography by Danny J. Peace,

Unfortunately, having a stem cell transplant can lead to issues that could have an impact on your life and future plans.

Although it’s difficult to think about them at such a stressful time, they should be addressed early so you can be prepared. These issues might not affect you, but it’s important to get the information and support you need just in case. Talk things through with your partner, family and friends, especially if you’re feeling anxious.

You can discuss all your options with your transplant team before you make any possible decisions. You can also ask to be referred to a psychologist or counsellor if you feel you need extra emotional or mental support. For more information on organisations that offer support and how you can access them yourself, please visit our getting some extra help section.


What is likely to happen: The chemotherapy associated with your transplant means that most people will find it difficult to conceive without some professional support.

What should happen: If you would like to have either your eggs or sperm frozen for the future, you can discuss your options with your medical team. They will be able to refer you to a fertility clinic if you decide this is something you want to do.

What could happen: Depending on your situation, your medical team may decide that your treatment must begin straightaway and that options to preserve your fertility are not possible.

Some women do still experience regular periods after their stem cell transplant and are able to have children, so a method of contraception may need to be considered depending on your circumstances.

Further support: More information on fertility options can be found in our booklet The Seven Steps: Next Steps guide (PDF 480KB). The Infertility Network UK also provides additional support and advice.

Early menopause

What is likely to happen: The chemotherapy and radiotherapy given during conditioning treatment also cause damage to your ovaries. This can lead to the menopause (when your menstrual cycle stops) starting earlier than expected. It can affect different women in different ways but you may experience a combination of hot flushes and sweats, vaginal dryness, bladder problems, mood changes, difficulty concentrating or low sex drive.

What should happen: If you have symptoms that are causing discomfort, you will be referred to a gynaecologist by either your GP or medical team.

What could happen: You may be offered Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), or other treatments that will help maintain your sex drive and relieve other symptoms. 

Further support: The Daisy Network supports women who have experienced premature menopause.

Stem cell transplant success rates

Transplant success rates vary widely depending on several factors. These include the patient’s age, the blood cancer or blood disorder they have, the type of transplant and their general health prior to transplant.

However, due to improved treatments and better understanding of what makes a good match, patients are generally living for longer and are able to cope better with side effects such as GvHD.

If you would like to know more about how this could affect your own circumstances, please talk to your medical team. They will be able to give you the most accurate information about your own situation.

Secondary cancers

What is likely to happen: Stem cell transplant patients have a higher risk of developing a secondary cancer later in life. This is due to the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other possible treatments you may have needed.

What should happen: If you are a woman, it’s recommended that you are screened for breast cancer more regularly than women of a similar age. The guidelines are different in different areas of the UK, so talk to your medical team if you have any concerns.

Current UK guidelines recommend that transplant patients are screened as regularly as people of the same age for other cancers (cervical and colon). So it’s important that you attend all screening appointments.

What could happen: Just because there is an increased risk of a secondary cancer developing, it doesn’t mean that it will happen. As with all cancers, treatment is more likely to be successful if the cancer is diagnosed early. So it’s important to check your body regularly and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.   

Further Support: More information on screening programmes is available from the NHS and Cancer Research UK.

Financial concerns

A stem cell transplant can lead to unexpected costs. Your transplant will likely lead to a period of time when you cannot work, for example, and the cost of travelling to and from your vital hospital appointments may become substantial over time.

  • Our Help With Your Finances page will help you to plan for this change. It also includes suggestions for support to help address financial problems that may arise.
  • Anthony Nolan offers a grants service for anyone who has had, or is due to have, a stem cell transplant. Further information can be found on our Anthony Nolan Grant page.

Information published: 26/05/2021
Next review due: 26/05/2024

Related links

Having a stem cell or bone marrow transplant

Recovery in the first year

Get support from us

Patients and Families Forum

Other organisations that can help