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The Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC

For Patients & Families
Diagnostic Tests & Procedures


What is apheresis?

Apheresis (a-fair-ee-sis) is a procedure in which the components of whole blood - red cells, white cells, and plasma - are separated into layers using a machine called a Cell Separator. This procedure is used to collect blood stem cells from donors or autologous transplant patients.

The Procedure - What to Expect

In the apheresis procedure, whole blood is removed from the body through an intravenous line and enters the machine where the components are separated. The cell separator machine can be adjusted so that one of the layers is removed and/or replaced. Then the blood components are returned to the body through a different intravenous line.

Sometimes the blood is removed from an arm vein on one side and returned to the body through an arm vein on the opposite side. However, this may not be technically possible if the patient's veins are small, or if the patient is very unwell. In this situation, a St. Paul’s Catheter (a rigid intravenous catheter) may be inserted into a large vein in the neck or groin to allow for repeated apheresis procedures.

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After the Procedure

Apheresis usually produces some mild side effects due to lowering of the blood calcium level as a result of the anticoagulant used in the cell separator. Low calcium levels can cause light-headedness, nausea, muscle cramping and tingling of the lips and hands/feet. These symptoms are usually managed with oral or intravenous calcium replacement.

Occasionally, the apheresis procedure can reduce the blood pressure, but this is uncommon except when a patient has other health problems, such as heart disease.

A nurse and doctor will be present during the procedure to monitor you. If you have questions about apheresis, please speak to the nurse or doctor.

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