Facts & Myths


Be a Mythbuster!

Unfortunately, there are many myths associated with marrow transplants. The lack of education can make the idea of becoming a donor scary. Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. The NMDP Registry is searched every day on behalf of patients in need of a blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Below are some of the popular misbeliefs surrounding marrow transplants.

I Don’t Need to Be A Donor


Each year tens of thousands of patients diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, are in need of a bone marrow transplant yet only half receive a transplant. Most blood cancers are treatable diseases. There just aren’t enough people in the registry to save the majority of them or at least give them a fighting chance. So many people say they never thought about becoming a donor until someone they knew needed a transplant. It is important for people to realize that this is a community issue on an international scale, and that if someone you knew needed a transplant, you would want others to help them too.

I’ll Never Be a Match


1 in 430 members of the NMDP Registry (Registry in the United States) will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient. Due to tissue diversity, there is no prediction of the likelihood of donation. You may never be identified as a match for someone OR you might be one of several potential matches. Either way, you may be the only one on the Registry who can save a particular patient’s life.

You Have to Give Blood to Join the National Registry


You do not have to draw an ounce of blood to join the NMDP Registry. You can register online or at a local donor registry drive in your area. If ordered online, once you receive your buccal swab kit in the mail, you swab the four corners of your cheeks for cells and return the kit. Your DNA is tested and typed. All information is entered into the national database and just like that, you are a donor!

Click here to find out more about Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing.

I Can’t Donate Blood, So I Can’t Donate Marrow

Medical guidelines are in place to protect your health as a potential donor, as well as the health of transplant patients. Many factors may make a person medically ineligible to join the NMDP Registry. These guidelines aren’t the same as blood donation guidelines and don’t include everything that could prevent you from donating bone marrow. If you’re a possible match for a patient, we’ll discuss your health history further and arrange a thorough physical exam. This is to ensure your safety and the patient’s safety.

Click here to read more about medical guidelines.

Marrow Donation Can Only Be From a Relative


Some patients can donate their stem cells, a process called an autologous transplant. However, many patients, depending on their age, cancer type, and overall health, require an allogeneic transplant for best results. (“allo” means other.) A patient’s brother or sister has a 30% chance of matching his or her sibling’s HLA type. When no siblings match, the patient will need a match from an unrelated donor. Minorities and people of mixed race have a harder time finding a match in the registry because fewer are represented. Because ethnic makeup determines who would be the best match, the Registry would benefit greatly from an increase in racial diversity.

Marrow Donation Has a Long Recovery Time


Marrow and PBSC donors should expect to return to work, school and most other activities within 1 to 7 days. Your marrow will return to normal levels within a few weeks. It’s important to note that bone marrow donor recovery times will vary depending on the individual and the type of donation.
Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation: The median time to full recovery for a PBSC donation is one week (seven days). Note: Median time is defined as the middle number in a range of numbers.

Bone Marrow Donation Recovery: The median time to full recovery for a marrow donation is 20 days. Note: Median time is defined as the middle number in a range of numbers.

Donors Will Never Meet Their Recipients


Donors and patients may have anonymous contact during the first year after transplant, depending on confidentiality policies of the transplant center. After one year, direct contact can be made only if both consent to have their personal contact information shared.

Marrow Donation Is Expensive


All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by the National Marrow Donor Program, which operates the NMDP Registry, or by the patient’s medical insurance, as are travel expenses and other non-medical costs. The only cost to the donor might be time taken off from work.

Becoming a Donor Will Take Too Much Time


While becoming a donor does require some time to fill out the paperwork and swab your cheek, it is much smaller of a time commitment than you think. Before you donate, there are several steps to make sure you are the best donor for the patient. These steps include an information session to provide resources to help you make your decision, as well as appointments for additional blood tests and a physical exam. The time needed for the actual donation depends on the donation procedure. On average, the entire process can take 30 to 40 hours, including travel time, over 4 to 6 weeks. Marrow and PBSC donations require about the same total time commitment.

Marrow Donation Hurts


Bone Marrow donation is done under general or regional anesthesia so the donor experiences no pain during the collection procedure. PBSC (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell) Donation is non-surgical and includes pre-retrieval injections and blood retrieval through a needle. Discomfort and side effects vary from person to person and by procedure. Most marrow donors experience some side effects after donation. Common side effects of marrow donation include, but are not limited to:

  • Lower back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness when walking
  • Bleeding at the collection site

Once I’m on The Registry, I Can’t Change My Mind


You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary.

A Donor’s Age Doesn’t Matter


Age does matter. Age guidelines are not meant to discriminate. They are meant to protect the safety of the donor and provide the best possible outcome for the patient. This is based on medical research that shows younger donors are best for patients and provide the greatest chance for transplant success. Because of this, doctors request donors in the 18 to 44 age group more than 95% of the time.

Learn more about why a donor’s age matters.

Minorities and Mixed-race Race Patients Can Find Donors Easily


Minorities and people of mixed race have a harder time finding a match in the registry because fewer are represented. Because ethnic makeup determines who would be the best match, the registry would benefit greatly from an increase in racial diversity. Adding more members who increase the ethnic diversity of the Registry increases the variety of tissue types available, helping more patients find the match they need.
Registrants with these backgrounds are especially needed:

  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian, including South Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Multiracial

Surgery Is the Only Way to Donate Marrow


There are two methods of donation for patients in need of a transplant. The method used is selected by the patient’s doctor and is based on what the doctor feels is best for the patient at that given time.

  • 75% of the time, a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation occurs. A PBSC transplant is a non-surgical procedure and the most common way to donate. For 5 days leading up to donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgrastim to increase the number of cells in your bloodstream that are used for transplant. Some of your blood is then removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through the other arm. Click here for more information.
  • The remaining 25% of the time, a patient’s doctor performs a bone marrow donation. This operation is usually an outpatient procedure. You will receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation. Doctors use a needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone.
  • Though no medical procedure is without risk, there are rarely any long-term side effects in donating either PBSC or bone marrow. Your cells replenish themselves in 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Because only 1 to 5% or less of your marrow is needed to save the patient’s life, your immune system stays strong. Click here to learn more about marrow donation.

Blood Cancers – The Facts

Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these cancers start in your bone marrow, where blood is produced. Stem cells in your bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal or cancerous cells prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. There are three main types of blood cancers:

Leukemia, a type of cancer found in your blood and bone marrow, is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. The high number of abnormal white blood cells cannot fight infection, and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes and other tissues. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system.

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body’s immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.

Every person who joins the registry gives patients hope for a second chance at life. YOU can be the one. YOU can be the cure. YOU can save a life. Click here to join the NMDP Registry.

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Matt & John

Childhood Cancer

Childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States. Cancer is responsible for more deaths in children than all other diseases combined.

Every day, approximately 43 children are diagnosed with cancer, and the average age of diagnosis is 6. More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year. Cancer affects all ethnic, gender, and socio-economic groups.

Number of Childhood Cancer Diagnoses Per Year Total = 15,780

Click here to view the most up-to-date statistics on blood cancer for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

child with cancer
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