Give the Gift of Life: Become a Bone Marrow Donor

For cancer patients, a bone-marrow transplant can a life-saving procedure. For the lucky some, a close relative turns out to be a perfect match. The rest need to turn elsewhere to find a bone-marrow donor, a task that may not be easy. You can help simply by signing up to be a marrow donor through a national registry. But what's involved in this selfless act?

Here are some important things to be aware of before you sign up:

You will need to make a time commitment if chosen to be a donor. You'll be asked to attend an information session and will need to make several medical appointments for blood tests and physical exams. You may incur travel time. There is some prep work in the days before the donation, on top of the donation itself.

There's little risk to donors. Donors are carefully screened for preexisting medical conditions in order to minimize risks to both themselves and the recipients. Since recipients need only up to 5 percent of a donor's marrow, the donor's bone-marrow cells quickly replace themselves.

Donating marrow probably will be minimally invasive. Most marrow donations occur via a procedure called peripheral blood stem cell donation. Instead of harvesting actual marrow (which would require surgery), this procedure involves collecting circulating blood, which contains the same cells needed from the marrow. Donors must receive injections of a medicine called filgrastim for five consecutive days leading up to the donation. The actual donation takes up to six hours if done on a single day, or three to four hours each if done on two separate days. 

Recovery is fairly quick. During the five days leading up the donation, donors may suffer the side effects of filgrastim, including headaches, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue. But after donating, they're typically back to their normal lives within a day or two and are completely recovered within weeks.

You can change your mind at any time. You're not obligated to go through with the donation after saying yes. It's appropriate, however, to inform the registry immediately if you've decided not to donate. Any delay in getting bone marrow to sick patients means less chance of surviving.

You may not be allowed to donate. As heartbreaking as it may be, certain people are not allowed to donate marrow. These include anyone with heart disease (in most cases), stroke, kidney disease, liver disease, and men who have had sex with men within the past five years. Your situation will be carefully evaluated if you suffer from diabetes, depression, epilepsy, or have recently been pregnant. Finally, you must be between the ages of 18 and 60.



U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

Be The Match,