Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is a treatment that is being studied in clinical trials for breast cancer. Currently, BMT for breast cancer patients is not recommended outside the setting of a clinical trial.
Sometimes breast cancer becomes resistant to treatment with radiation therapy or normal doses of chemotherapy drugs. High doses of chemotherapy can destroy the bone marrow, and therefore, damage the immune system. Therefore, bone marrow is taken from either the patient before high-dose chemotherapy treatment, or from healthy person (the donor) whose marrow cells are compatible. In either case, the bone marrow cells are frozen for later use. Very high doses of chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy may then be used to treat the breast cancer.
The frozen marrow cells are then thawed and injected into the patient to replace the marrow that was destroyed by the chemotherapy. If the bone marrow cells came from the same patient, this type of transplant is called an autologous transplant. If the source of the bone marrow cells originated from another person, the transplant is called an allogeneic transplant.
BMT is a relatively aggressive (i.e.: very toxic) method of treatment for breast cancer patients. The chances of recovery from breast cancer in patients treated by BMT are greater in hospitals that do more than 5 BMT procedures per year.