by EVELYN WONG
With increased diagnoses of blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, taking the time to donate blood, platelets, plasma or bone marrow may have the potential to save a patient’s life.
According to the American Red Cross, more than 44,000 blood donations are needed every day. These are given to cancer patients as blood transfusions, a process in which blood or a blood component is transferred from a donor to a recipient. Transfusions are required by patients who undergo cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation or the cancer itself.
Blood is required to carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and remove waste. Patients experiencing a deficiency in blood levels most commonly require transfusions of platelets, red blood cells and plasma, according to cancer.net.
Some cancer treatments reduce the number of red blood cells, which can cause a patient to become week and anemic, according to urmc.rochester.edu. Donating a single unit of blood, a process that takes about an hour in total, may be used to help replenish a patient’s supply of blood cells. In order to donate blood, one must register and receive a brief medical screening beforehand; during the blood drawing, a nurse or technician will fill a pint bag of blood from the donor’s arm. After the process, the donor’s body will immediately start to replenish blood cells.
According to redcrossblood.org, after the donation process, whole blood undergoes processing, which separates it into transfusable components: red blood cells, plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate, a component of plasma.
In addition, platelet donations can be made at blood donation centers, such as the American Red Cross Blood Donation centers. Essential for blood clotting, platelets are vital in cancer and organ transplant treatments and surgical processes to prevent massive blood loss, according to gotblood.ucla.edu. The donation takes about one to two hours and may be a single or dual arm procedure, depending on the collection device used.
During a platelet donation, about a quarter of the donor’s blood is taken at a time and passed through a cell-separating machine, which collects platelets and safely returns the remaining blood components. All blood donors with the blood type A+, B+ and AB are encouraged to consider a platelet donation, according to redcrossblood.org.
Plasma, which controls bleeding and antibodies that help fight infection, can be collected simultaneously with a platelet donation. Unlike blood donations, which are blood type-specific, Type AB plasma is universal; it can be received by anyone, regardless of their blood type.
Graphic by SARAH HANASHIRO
Less common is blood marrow donation, which involves a surgical procedure to withdraw liquid marrow (where the body’s blood-forming cells are made) from both sides of the back of one’s pelvic bone, according to bethematch.org. After the donation, the liquid marrow is transported to the patient’s location for transplant.
A match must be made between the blood marrow donor and recipient; both individuals’ tissue type, specifically their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. According to bethematch.org, HLAs are protein markers used by the immune system to recognize foreign cells. Blood marrow donors are given anesthesia during the operation and required to stay in a hospital overnight for recovery after the anesthesia wears off.
Ranging anywhere from 10 minutes to two days, donating blood, bone marrow and other components may be a value holiday gift to blood cancer patients—straight from the heart.