Stem cell therapy has been in the news lately for several reasons. First, it is a newer therapy that holds great promise in treating a wide variety of different conditions. It is also generating a lot of research activity precisely because it has such potential. The other point that nearly always comes up is its cost. Here's why stem cell therapy is expensive, what the benefits are and why so many people are choosing this option – they feel the benefits are worth the stem cell therapy cost.
Stem Cell Therapy – the Basics
Stem cell therapy is the practice of collecting stem cells from a patient and injecting these special cells into the body somewhere else. The technique has been used for over 30 years to treat leukemia as bone marrow transplantation. Your body cells can actually make identical replacements. That's how muscle, bones and other tissues heal after an injury. A single stem cell, however, has the potential to become many different types of cells. This capacity to regenerate or self renew is what makes stem cells unique. Scientists who are currently conducting research on stem cells think that we might eventually be able to use them to create new organs, eliminating the need for transplants. In orthopedics, stem cell therapy shows great promise because tissue and bone degeneration are at the heart of so many musculoskeletal conditions.
About the Procedure
Depending on the procedure, you may complete everything in a single day or need several different appointments. Stem cell therapy is an outpatient procedure; many orthopedic treatments require inpatient stays and general anesthesia. The first step is a blood draw from your arm. Next you'll receive medication to numb the area from which the doctor draws bone marrow (usually the hip). After the samples have been processed in the lab, the material will be re-injected into the treatment area. This might be a knee, hip, shoulder joint or perhaps the site of an injury or surgical operation. You'll receive intravenous sedation to keep you comfortable, and can go home as soon as you are fully awake. The doctor uses imaging techniques with special X-ray technologies to ensure the specimen is delivered to the right area. The stem cell injection requires only a small incision. Most patients report little to no discomfort from the procedure.
Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is new enough that research is still emerging, but there are plenty of promising reports. In the aging athlete, stem cell therapy may decrease chronic joint pain. Some patients report they have been able to reduce their medication or stop it entirely. Improved joint flexibility, which offers better joint function and increased range of motion, is one of the benefits of stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy helps the body produce collagen, the important tissue protein that typically diminishes with age. Decreased healing times seems to be another benefit from stem cell therapy. What stem cell therapy may be able to do for many patients is jump-start and support the healing process, which has been the limiting factor for musculoskeletal conditions even as surgical technology and medications have improved. Cartilage, for example, tends not to self repair. Stem cells may change that.
The Cost Issue
Stem cell therapy is expensive, relatively speaking. However, it is certainly much less expensive than something like a total hip replacement, which would cost an uninsured patient an average of $40,000 in the US. In comparison, a joint injection with stem cells might cost around $5,000 or more. It's very difficult to predict the cost of this therapy in an individual case because it's affected by so many factors – the type, amount and quality of the stem cells, the area of the body from which they are collected, where they are being injected, how many treatments are required and so on. Because it's a newer therapy, insurance companies don't cover it – just as they once refused to cover other medical therapies that are now considered mainstream. Loans and payment plans are usually available to help patients pay for the therapy.
Prior to the treatment becoming available in the US, a number of famous athletes traveled outside the US to obtain stem cell therapy New York Jets running back Chris Johnson, Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara and the legendary Peyton Manning reportedly all used stem cell therapy to help them recover from injuries and keep playing. Some of the treatments outside the US may cost $25,000 just for the treatment. This innovative, very simple procedure is rather like a handmade dress or suit – deceptively simple, serves its purpose well but is much more expensive than buying a garment off the rack. Many people seem to think stem cell therapy cost is worth the price. If you're interested in this therapy, please contact an orthopedic surgeon for more information.