Bone Marrow Transplant - Mayo Clinic
How to Donate Bone Marrow
When you register or offer to donate blood marrow, you can save the lives of people threatened by cancers and blood diseases like leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell disease. Although the process is more intensive than other donation procedures, like giving blood, it typically involves no more than a day total in an outpatient facility and several days of recovery. In the U.S. alone, 6,000 people need a bone marrow transplant on any given day. By signing up to donate yours, you may be able to give a second chance at life to a patient in need.
Registering to Donate
Learn about the 2 different kinds of donation and what they entail.Traditional bone marrow donation requires a surgical procedure during which doctors will withdraw liquid marrow from 2 small incisions in your pelvic bone. The more common method today, however, is called PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donation, in which stem cells are filtered from the donor’s blood in a process similar to plasma donation.
- During a traditional bone marrow transplant, you’ll be under a general anesthetic. During a PBSC transplant, you’ll have blood removed from one arm, passed through a filtration system to remove blood-forming cells, then returned into your other arm.
- As a donor, you may be asked to undergo either procedure.
- It’s also possible to donate stem cells from umbilical cord blood after giving birth. This procedure is usually used for small children. If you’re interested in donating umbilical cord blood, talk to your doctor.
Understand the commitment before you sign up as a donor.Receiving a bone marrow transplant can be a life-saving procedure for a patient, but it’s also a more complicated and inconvenient process for the donor than other procedures, like giving blood. Take some time to really consider this decision before you register. Do some research and make sure you’re willing to donate if you’re found to be a match.
- Bone marrow transplants are typically given to people with diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma, that require a stem cell transplant.
- About 1 in every 540 registered donors will be called on to make a donation.
- If you’re found to be a match, you’ll still have the option of backing out of the donation.
Become a donor if you’re between 18-44 years old.Younger donors produce more cells of a higher quality than older donors, and studies have shown that recipients of cells from younger donors have a better chance of long-term survival. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 can sign up to be a donor, though—there is just a lower chance that you’ll be asked to donate if you’re between 44-60.
- The upper age limit also takes donor safety into account. There is a slight increase in the risk of complications for older donors.
Make sure you meet the medical criteria to be a donor.The medical guidelines for bone marrow donors differ from those for blood donors. If you’re matched to a patient, you’ll be given a thorough physical exam and answer more questions about your health history, but a few conditions that could prevent you from donating include:
- Hepatitis B or C
- Severe arthritis
- Asthma requiring regular or daily pills
- Autoimmune diseases that affect your whole body, like fibromyalgia or systemic lupus erythemastosus (SLE)
- Heart disease
- A history of strokes
- Serious kidney or liver diseases
Register at a bone marrow drive to talk to experts before you sign up.Bone marrow donation organizations like Be the Match regularly hold events to register people. At an event, you’ll create an online account and order a cheek swab kit or swab your cheek in person. You’ll also have the chance to ask volunteers and registry staff any questions you might have about donating.
- A cheek swab is needed to obtain a sample of your DNA, which the registry will use to match you with potential recipients.
- To find events in your area, go to .
- If you live outside the U.S., contact your country’s international donor center. For a selected list, see .
- If you’re between the ages of 45 and 60, you’ll need to pay a 0 tax-deductible fee to cover the cost of joining.
Join the bone marrow registry online for convenience.If there are no in-person registration events in your area, you can sign up online. You’ll create an account with your email address and answer a few basic medical history questions. Then, you’ll receive a cheek swab kit in the mail, complete it according to instructions, and mail it back to complete your registration.
Talk to a doctor if you want to donate to a specific person.If someone in your family needs a stem cell transplant, you might have a good chance of being a bone marrow match for them. In this case, talk to their doctors about getting tested and making the arrangements to donate.
- If you choose this option, you will likely not be put on a bone marrow registry. The doctor will simply test your DNA privately, only comparing it against the DNA of the other person. If you have any questions, ask your doctor.
Matching and Donating to a Patient
Keep your registry contact information up to date.It’s impossible to know when you might be contacted about a potential match—it might be in a few months, a few years, or never at all. No matter what, it’s crucial to keep your registry contact information current so that if you do match with a patient, you can move forward with the process as soon as possible.
- To see if you’re a match, a doctor will compare the proteins in your blood cells with those of their patient. The more similar they are, the better the chance of the patient’s body accepting the transplant.
Decide whether you want to donate when you become a match.When you get contacted as a potential match for a patient, respond promptly as instructed. The donation is voluntary, so just because you get matched doesn’t mean you have to go through with it. Think carefully before making this decision. Backing out may have a serious effect on the patient’s health, but you may have legitimate reasons for doing so, such as a health issue or being unable to take time off to recover.
- If you decide to donate, you’ll sign a consent form. No doctors or registry officials will pressure you to sign this form—it’s completely your own decision.
- If you decide not to donate, tell the registry and doctors right away so they can start searching for another donor.
Go through more testing and appointments if you match with a patient.After being matched, you’ll go through a physical examination and possibly more tests, including another cheek swab or blood sample. If you’re chosen as the best match for the patient, you’ll attend an information session, where you’ll learn more about the exact donation process and possible risks and side effects. You’ll also sign the consent form at this session.
- At the information session, you’ll also learn whether you’ll undergo a bone marrow or PBSC donation.
- You can ask the doctors about the patient as well. Most information is confidential, but centers are typically able to tell you their age, gender, and disease.
Undergo a safe surgical procedure if you’re donating blood marrow.If you give a traditional bone marrow donation, you’ll be in a hospital outpatient facility all day and sometimes overnight. You’ll be under general anesthesia for about 2 hours. During the donation, you’ll be lying on your stomach and the doctors will use hollow needles to withdraw liquid marrow from small 2 small incisions in your pelvic bone.
- General anesthesia is used for about 96% of bone marrow donations, but some facilities use regional anesthesia, either spinal or epidural.
- The procedure removes only a small fraction of your total bone marrow, and your marrow will naturally replenish itself within a few weeks of the donation.
Donate PBSC through a process similar to plasma donation.Before a PBSC donation, you’ll be injected with filgrastim, a medicine that increases the amount of stem cells in your blood. You’ll receive these injections on each of the 5 days before the donation. During the donation, you’ll have a needle put into each of your arms. Blood will be removed from one arm, then passed through a blood cell separator machine to collect the necessary cells. The remaining blood will be returned to your body through your other arm.
- The cells removed by the blood separator machine are blood-forming cells, platelets, and some white blood cells. Plasma and red blood cells go back into your body.
- Your first filgrastim injections will be given at a donor center or clinic. On days 2-4, you can get your injections at your home or workplace. You’ll get the last injection at the center, followed by the donation itself.
- The donation can take up to 8 hours.
Recovering From the Procedure
Prepare for the side effects of your procedure.Both donation procedures come with side effects, which can vary from donor to donor. Some side effects could include:
- For bone marrow donation: back or hip pain; fatigue; muscle pain; headache; bruising at the site of the incision. These aches can last a few days or up to several weeks.
- For PBSC donation: filgrastim side effects can include headaches, bone and muscle pain, nausea, trouble sleeping, and fatigue. Side effects of the donation procedure include tingling around the mouth, toes, and fingers, muscle cramps, and bruising around the injection site.
Understand the risks of donating blood marrow or PBSC.The risks of both procedures are minimal, with over 99% of donors making a full recovery. Bone marrow donation risks are mostly related to anesthesia, while PBSC risks are even smaller.
- For bone marrow donations, a small percentage of donors experience serious complications from anesthesia, or damage to their hip bones, nerves, or muscles. Serious risks of anesthesia are rare; common side effects include sore throat or mild nausea.
- For PBSC donations, fewer than 1% of donors experience serious side effects. The donation might require the placement of a central line if your arm veins prevent needle placement, but the risk of serious complications from this are small.
Get back to your routine a few days after the donation.Recovery time from either procedure depends on the person and procedure, but most patients of either procedure are able to go back to their normal activities within a few days to a week. For a bone marrow donation, you may be asked to stay at the hospital overnight, then take several days to fully recover. With a PBSC donation, donors are typically able to leave quite soon after the donation and get back to their usual routine within 1-2 days.
- If you gave a bone marrow donation, your marrow will take 4-6 weeks to return to normal levels, but you’ll typically be able to get back to your usual activities within a week.
Get in touch with your recipient if your center allows it.If you’re interested in learning more about the recipient of your donor, ask your donation center what their protocol is. In the U.S., you should be given updates every few months following the transplant. Some centers allow you to communicate anonymously with your recipient, and others will let you contact them directly after 1 or more years.
- It’s important to remember that although receiving a transplant can be life-saving, not all recipients end up surviving, whether due to pre-transplant chemotherapy and radiation or health complications following the transplant. For many recipients, though, the transplant is a success.
Contact your registry or donor advocacy program if you have any issues.If you have any long-term physical or mental side effects from your donation, get in touch with your registry. They will typically cover medical expenses and help find medical care for you following the donation. You can also contact a donor advocacy program to learn more about your rights and support options after the donation.
QuestionIf a donor has a history of breast cancer can she still donate bone marrow?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo. Any history of cancer makes a patient ineligible for any body part, donations except to donate their body to medical research.Thanks!
QuestionI have a relative who needs bone marrow, but lives far away. Can I donate where I am or do we have to be in the same city?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost likely you have to be in the same city as the person you are donating to. Ask your general physician for more information.Thanks!
QuestionCan mantle cell lymphoma be cured by a bone marrow donation?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, after chemotherapy the patient may undergo a bone marrow transplant. First, an autologous transplantation, and if that fails, an allograft.Thanks!
QuestionWill I be able to walk after I donate bone marrow?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you should be able to walk afterwards, although it may be difficult at first.Thanks!
QuestionCan a person donate bone marrow from South Africa to a dying patient in the UK?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, but you will have to travel to the patient's surgery location.Thanks!
QuestionHow many times can I donate in a row?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt varies from person to person. Ask a doctor before donating bone marrow in case there's something important you need to know. If your family has a history of problems, it's best to know beforehand. Always check with a professional if you have any more questions like this one.Thanks!
QuestionHow old is too old to donate bone marrow?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou may want to speak to a physician about the age limit. It may vary for different people.Thanks!
QuestionDo the donor and the recipient need to have the same blood type?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, they don't. Bone marrow donations are matched by HLA type, not blood type.Thanks!
QuestionIf a person had a blood transfusion about 27 years ago, can he/she still donate bone marrow?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you can. A blood transfusion does not affect bone marrow.Thanks!
QuestionI received a text message that I was a bone marrow match. Is this a scam, or would they contact me this way?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt's likely legitimate; you may have been contacted by the healthcare agency's automated system. Contact the agency using the number you already have on file (not the one provided in the text) to verify its validity and find out the next steps you need to take.Thanks!
Can a person who has had open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve (2 yrs ago) be a bone marrow donor?
If I'm on cholesterol medication, am I still eligible to donate?
Where should I go to take a test if I am able to donate bone marrow?
Can a mother donate marrow for her son if she is AS?
Do I have a higher chance to match if I have the universal blood type?
- If you’re unable to donate, there are other ways you can make a difference. Volunteer at bone marrow drives, make financial contributions to blood cancer organizations, and spread the word to encourage more people to donate.
Video: Bone Marrow Donor Meets Recipient | University of Iowa Health Care
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