Frequently Asked Questions about Joining the Registry and Marrow Donation
- What is a bone marrow transplant?
- How can I join to become a donor?
- What are the conditions to become a donor?
- Does race or ethnicity affect matching?
- Is there a cost associated with becoming a donor? Who pays for the hospital expenses?
- When you join the registry, can you just join for one person in particular or are you on the list for everyone?
- What does the donation process entail?
- Is stem cell or bone marrow donation painful? Are there any side effects?
- What is the process from the moment you get the call that you are the match?
- Can I change my mind about donating?
What is a bone marrow transplant?
Bone marrow transplant is a life-saving treatment for people with leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases. First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells are given directly into the patient’s bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. For a patient’s body to accept these healthy cells, the patient needs a donor who is a close match. Seventy percent of patients do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.
How can I join to become a donor?
You can join the registry either at a donor registry drive or by requesting at kit at www.ProjectMarrow.org.
What are the conditions to become a donor?
In order to be a donor, you have to be between the age of 18-60, be willing to donate to any patient in need of transplant, and keep your contact information current by logging into www.BeTheMatch.org/update or calling 1 (800) MARROW-2 (1-800-627-7692).
Does race or ethnicity affect matching?
Racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Today, there simply aren’t enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match. Members of 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
- Multiple race
Is there a cost associated with becoming a donor? Who pays for the hospital expenses?
There is no cost associated with donation to the donor. When a donor is matched with a patient, the patient’s insurance, and the National Marrow Donor Program which operates the Be The Match Registry will pay the costs (including any travel, meals, lodging expenses that may be necessary). A donor’s insurance will never be used.
Although a donor never pays to donate, many people do contribute toward the donor registration fee when they sign-up as a bone marrow donor.
When you join the registry, can you just join for one person in particular or are you on the list for everyone?
When you join the registry, you are on the list for every patient in need of marrow transplant. Once on the list, you become one of the numbers of potential matches for any searching patient. You may also be the only match on the registry of 12 million people who can save the patient’s life.
However, if you want to be tested only for a specific patient, you will need to have your testing done privately. You can contact the patient’s transplant center or transplant doctor for more information. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for detailed info on where to contact for a private registry.
What does the donation process entail?
There are two ways to donate. The patient’s doctor requests one of two types of donation, depending on what is best for the patient.
1) Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation is the most common form of donating today. This is a non-surgical, out-patient procedure.
For five days before donation, the donor receives daily injections of a drug that increases blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. On the fifth day, the donor’s blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.
2) Marrow donation is a surgical outpatient procedure. While the donor is under anesthesia, the doctor uses needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone. The donor’s marrow completely replaces itself within four to six weeks.
Is stem cell or bone marrow donation painful? Are there any side effects?
During the bone marrow collection, since anesthesia is used, the donors experience virtually no pain. They can expect to feel some soreness in their lower back for one to two weeks afterward. Most marrow donors are back to their normal activities in two to seven days.
Peripheral stem cell donors rarely experience discomfort either during or after the procedure. Side effects of donating can be uncomfortable but are short-lived. Donors take a hormone called Filgrastim, which spurs stem cell production, for five days leading up to the donation. Filgrastim can cause headaches, joint or muscle aches or fatigue. PBSC donors usually return to their normal routine in one to two days.
What is the process from the moment you get the call that you are the match?
Answer the call that you are a possible match for a patient. Once you come in, you are asked to give another cheek swab sample or blood sample, so it is confirmed that you are the best possible match. After attending an information session, you undergo one of the two ways of donation: PBSC donation, or marrow donation. You will also receive follow up support post donation.
Can I change my mind about donating?
Your commitment to donate if called is very important, but you have the right to change your mind. Just let us know right away so we can seek another donor and avoid dangerous delays for the patient.