Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a common side effect of an allogeneic bone marrow or cord blood transplant.
GVHD can affect many different parts of the body. The skin, eyes, mouth, stomach and intestines are affected most often. GVHD can range from mild to life-threatening.
Having some GVHD is not all bad. It has been found that patients who experience some GVHD have a lower risk of cancer returning after transplantation than patients who do not develop GVHD.
There are two forms of GVHD:
- Acute GVHD develops in the first three months post-transplant.
- Chronic GVHD usually develops after the first 100 days post-transplant, but signs and symptoms can appear earlier.
Acute GVHD develops in the first three months post transplant. It primarily affects the skin, gastrointestinal tract and liver. While some transplant recipients don't experience any GVHD, others experience extensive GVHD. The severity of GVHD can range from mild to life-threatening. GVHD is usually graded from Stage I (mild) to Stage IV (severe). You may hear your transplant doctor use one of these terms.
Chronic GVHD can begin any time post transplant, but typically develops during the third to sixth month. Sometimes patients have their first symptoms of GVHD when their medications that suppress the immune system are stopped. If you have had or are experiencing acute GVHD, you are more likely to have chronic GVHD. Symptoms of chronic GVHD can involve the skin, joints, mouth, gastrointestinal tract and other organs. How much GVHD you experience, and how serious it is varies widely from patient to patient.