The Bone Marrow And Stem Cell Donation Process: Expectations & More

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and NMDP/Be The Match have partnered to launch a campaign called “American Symphony: Become a Lifesaver” in an effort to increase the number of donors of blood and bone marrow stem cells, particularly in ethnically diverse communities. Stem cell and bone marrow donations have proven to be a lifesaving treatment for those with blood cancers and other blood diseases. However, there is an urgent need for more donors between the ages of 18 and 40, especially those with non-European and mixed ancestry.

The donation process has been made easier thanks to advances in technology. For most transplants, stem cells are collected from the donor’s blood stream rather than the bone marrow. Donation from the blood is a simple and relatively painless procedure, similar to donating blood platelets. In the rare instances where bone marrow is required, donors undergo a surgical procedure under general anesthesia to extract the marrow. Donors who have given stem cells may experience some fatigue, while those who have donated bone marrow may experience pelvic and hip pain, which can be managed with over-the-counter pain medication.

HLA (human leukocyte antigen) typing is used to match donors with recipients. Patients are more likely to find a donor within their own ethnic group, but certain ethnic groups, such as Latin American, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern, are underrepresented in public registries. For patients who cannot find a perfect match, alternatives include using cells from a family member who is a half match, cells from a partly matched unrelated donor, or stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood. While these options can still offer good outcomes, finding a perfect match is preferable.

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