The collection of stem cells (apheresis) is a painless procedure that takes about 4 to 5 hours. During the procedure, you may relax in bed; watch television; listen to music, podcasts, etc.; or read. Your blood will be withdrawn through your CVC and circulated through a cell-separating machine. This machine separates and collects white blood cells, including the stem cells, along with a few red blood cells and platelets. The remaining blood cells are returned to you through your CVC. Only a small amount (about one unit) of your blood is in the separator machine at any one time. Your blood is returned to you at the same rate it is removed.
Sometimes patients have a little dizziness, numbness, tingling, chilling or lightheadedness during the procedure. These symptoms are caused by a substance that keeps the blood from clotting as the cells are collected. If you notice any of these symptoms during the collection procedure, tell your transplant or pheresis nurse immediately. These symptoms can be managed by temporarily slowing or stopping the procedure, giving you some calcium, or covering you with warm blankets.
You may need to undergo several collection procedures before enough stem cells are collected to give back to you after your high-dose chemotherapy. These collections are usually performed daily. It is a good idea to eat a normal meal before collection and include calcium-rich foods (milk, yogurt or cheese for example). These foods can help prevent some of the side effects of the procedure.
Lab tests are done each day on the cells to check how many have been collected. The cells are frozen and stored in separate bags under special conditions until they are needed for your transplant.