Focus on Health
Aug 19, 2009, 10:32 PM

A cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

Some people are living longer, others are beating it all together -- thanks to cancer research and some personal sacrifice.

Amy Brooks had leukemia. The treatment was harsh, but it did seem to deliver the knockout blow to her leukemia. Then about a year later doctors told amy the cancer came back.

"I'm like, oh my goodness, can I die? And they're like, absolutely. I was somewhere in that 15-percent chance survival range," she said.

Amy needed a bone marrow transplant.

"The term bone marrow transplant always brings up the image of someone going into an O.R. And having bone marrow put in. But it's not that. It's actually more like a blood transfusion," said Dr. Dennis Gastineau, at the Mayo Clinic.

Gastineau says bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside some bones. Its job is to produce blood cells.

To prepare for the transplant, patients have chemotherapy to kill the leukemia and malfunctioning marrow. Then transplanted blood stem cells are put into the blood stream. Ideally, the transplanted cells begin producing new, healthy cells.

The cells used for transplantation come from one of three sources: Healthy people can donate marrow from their hip bone which requires a surgical procedure - or they can donate blood stem cells.

Last, if patients can't find a matching donor, they can be transplanted with stem cells from their own blood. It works if they're healthy enough to go through the collection process before their marrow is wiped out from chemotherapy.

This is what Amy did. In a process called aphersis, a machine removes only stem cells from the blood. What remains goes back in the donor's arm. Amy's transplanted stem cells worked.

There is a need for donations. Every year many people can't have bone marrow transplants because they can't find a match or they can't use their own stem cells.