Graft-versus-Host-Disease (GvHD)

Graft-versus-disease is a common complication after a bone marrow, stem cell or cord blood transplant using cells from a donor.

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What Is Graft-versus-Host Disease (GVHD)?

Graft-versus-Host Disease (GVHD) is a common complication following a transplant using donor cells. GVHD is not an issue for patients who had a transplant using their own stem cells.

GVHD occurs when the donor's immune system (the graft) perceives the patient's organs and tissues (the host) as unfamiliar cells that should be destroyed.

The cells that trigger this reaction are a type of white blood cell called T-cells. They are part of the immune system and help protect the body against infection and fight cancer.

Between 20 and 50 percent of patients transplanted with donor cells develop graft-versus-host disease after transplant. The percentage is higher in:

  • older patients
  • patients who were transplanted with cells from an unrelated donor
  • patients transplanted with peripheral blood stem cells, rather than bone marrow or cord blood.

Most cases of GVHD are mild or moderate and resolve over time. However, GVHD can be more severe and, in some cases, life-threatening.

Patients who develop GVHD usually do so within the first year after transplant. However, GVHD can also occur months or years later.

Types of GVHD

There are two forms of GVHD: acute GVHD and chronic GVHD. Patients may develop one, both or neither.

Each has a different effect on organs and tissues. Although acute and chronic GVHD usually occur during different time periods after transplant, it is possible to have both at the same time.

Next page:  Acute Graft-versus-Host Disease (aGVHD)