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Blood and Marrow Transplant

Becoming a BMT Donor

Stem cell donors are crucial to a successful blood and marrow transplant. Their donation of bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells helps save the lives of thousands of critically ill patients.

Anyone ages 18-60 who meets the required health guidelines and is willing to donate to any patient in need can become a donor. Everyone on the registry is critical to saving lives. For all registry members, the most important thing you can do is stay committed, so if you’re selected as a match for a patient, make sure you’re ready to move forward.

The only BMT patients who do not require a donor are those who can use their own stem cells for transplant (autologous stem cell transplant). All other BMT patients require stem cells from a donor with matching tissue. A donor may be a relative or friend, but often is unknown, found on the registry.

If you need a stem cell transplant, you are not responsible for finding own donor. If you require a matching donor for BMT, your transplant team at The University of Kansas Cancer Center will find a donor for you. If one of your siblings is a match, he or she can donate. If not, we will search the Be The Match® registry and other registries to find a matching unrelated donor.

All donors, including relatives, receive a thorough physical exam. This may include laboratory blood tests, MRI and a bone scan. This ensures your safety as well as the transplant recipient’s safety.

Guidelines to donate

If you need a stem cell transplant, you are not responsible for finding own donor. If you require a matching donor for BMT, your transplant team at The University of Kansas Cancer Center will find a donor for you. If one of your siblings is a match, he or she can donate. If not, we will search the Be The Match® registry and other registries to find a matching unrelated donor.

All donors, including relatives, receive a thorough physical exam. This may include laboratory blood tests, MRI and a bone scan. This ensures your safety as well as the transplant recipient’s safety.

To become a bone marrow or stem cell donor, you must join the Be The Match registry, the largest marrow and stem cell registry in the world. To join, you must meet specific medical requirements that include restrictions on age and general health to determine if you are eligible to be a donor.

Questions and answers about stem cell donation

  • A: BMT can be a lifesaving treatment for people with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and other blood disorders like sickle cell anemia.

    First, transplant recipients have chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Next, we transplant a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells directly into the recipient’s bloodstream, where they begin to function and multiply.

  • A: The first step to become a donor is to join the Be The Match registry. Doctors around the world search this registry to find matches for their patients. If a doctor selects you as a match for a patient, you may be asked to donate bone marrow or cells from circulating blood (called peripheral blood stem cell donation).
  • A: We may ask donors to donate in 1 of 2 ways:

    • Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation involves removing a donor’s blood through a needle in 1 arm. The blood is passed through a machine that separates out the cells used in transplants. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.
    • Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure in which we withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the donor’s pelvic bones using needles. We always use anesthesia for this procedure, so donors feel no pain during marrow donation. Most donors feel mild pain in their lower back for a few days afterwards.
  • A: When you join the Be The Match registry, you make a commitment to:

    • Donate to any searching patient who matches you
    • Respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match for a patient
    • Be listed on the registry until your 61st birthday, unless you ask to be removed
    • Keep us updated if your contact information changes, you have significant health changes or you change your mind about being a donor

    You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary. If you decide you do not want to donate, let us know right away. That way we can continue the search for another donor without dangerous delays for a patient.

  • A: Yes. When more than 1 potential donor is a good match for a patient, doctors will consider other factors, including the donor’s age. Doctors choose donors based on what is best for the transplant recipient.

    • Under 18: At under 18 years old, you aren't eligible to join the registry. You must be 18 to donate because donation is a medical or surgical procedure and you need to be legally able to give informed consent. Since donating unrelated bone marrow is a voluntary procedure, a guardian or parent cannot sign a release or give consent for someone under age 18.
    • 18-44: This is the age range in which you are most likely to be called to donate. Research shows that cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants. Doctors request donors in the 18-44 age group more than 95% of the time.
    • 45-60: If you are age 45-60 and want to join the registry, you’re welcome to join online with a $100 tax-deductible payment to cover the cost of joining.
    • 60+: You aren't eligible to join the registry. With age, the chances of a complication resulting from any medical procedure increase. Because of this, the upper age limit for donation is 60.

    It is important to note that the age limit is not meant to discriminate in any way. Age guidelines are in place to protect donors and provide the best treatment for patients. Research shows that cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants.

  • A: Yes. Because tissue types used in matching are inherited, you are most likely to match someone of the same ethnic ancestry or ethnic background. 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.

    To increase the diversity of the registry, we especially need members who identify as:

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

Stem cell donation myths and facts

MYTH: All donations involve surgery.

FACT: The majority of donations do not involve surgery. Today, the patient's doctor most often requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is nonsurgical. The 2nd way of donating is marrow donation, which is a surgical procedure. In each case, donors typically go home the same day they donate.

MYTH: Donating is painful and involves a long recovery.

FACT: There can be uncomfortable but short-lived side effects of donating PBSC. Due to taking a drug called filgrastim for 5 days leading up to donation, PBSC donors may have headaches, joint or muscle aches or fatigue. PBSC donors are typically back to their normal routine in 1-2 days.

Those donating marrow receive general or regional anesthesia, so they feel no pain during donation. Marrow donors can expect to feel some soreness in their lower back for 1-2 weeks afterward. Most marrow donors are back to their normal activities in 2-7 days.

MYTH: Donating is dangerous and weakens the donor.

FACT: Though no medical procedure is without risk, there are rarely any long-term side effects to becoming a bone marrow donor. Be The Match carefully prescreens all donors to ensure they are healthy and the procedure is safe for them. We also provide support and information every step of the way.

Because only 5% percent or less of a donor's marrow is needed for a successful transplant, the donor's immune system stays strong and the cells replace themselves within 4-6 weeks.

MYTH: In bone marrow donation, pieces of bone are removed from the donor.

FACT: No pieces of bone are required for marrow donation. To save the patient’s life, a successful transplant only needs the liquid marrow found inside the donor's pelvic bone.

MYTH: Donors have to pay to donate.

FACT: Donors never pay to donate. We reimburse travel costs and may reimburse other costs on a case-by-case basis. However, potential donors aged 45-60 who want to join the Be The Match registry are required to make a $100 tax-deductible payment to cover the cost to join.

Cancer survivor Anne Holzbeierlein.

Rising to the challenge

Anne Holzbeierlein was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and needed a bone marrow transplant. Thanks to a clinical trial, she's cancer-free.
Anne's story

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To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.

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