Bone Marrow Donation

For the thousands of people diagnosed every year with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma and other diseases like sickle cell, a cure exists: a bone marrow transplant. Seventy percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family. They depend on Be The Match® to find an unrelated marrow donor—which could be you.

Once you join the registry, you’ll be included in patient searches every day. If you match a patient, you’ll be contacted to confirm that you’re willing to donate. 

Steps of Bone Marrow Donation

There are several steps in the marrow donation process. These steps are in place to ensure the donor is the best match for the patient and is medically able to donate. These steps can take 20 to 30 hours, spread out over a 4- to 6-week period. This doesn’t include travel time, which is defined as air travel and staying overnight in a hotel. 

Step 1: Get ready to donate

If you match a patient and agree to move forward, you’ll be asked to update your health information and participate in additional testing to see if you’re the best match for the patient. If you are the best match, you’ll:

  • Participate in an information session. During the session, you’ll receive detailed information about the donation procedure and recovery process, including risks and side effects. If you agree to donate, you’ll sign a consent form.
  • Have a physical exam and give blood samples to make sure that donation is safe for both you and the patient.

Step 2: Donate PBSC or bone marrow

There are two methods of donation: peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) and bone marrow. They require about the same total time commitment. The patient’s doctor will choose which one is best for the patient.

  • PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure. For five days leading up to donation, you’ll be given injections of filgrastim, a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On the day of donation, 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 you through the other arm.
  • Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. You’ll receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation. 

Step 3: Recovery and follow-up

The time it takes for a donor to recover depends on the person and type of donation. Most donors are able to return to work, school, and other activities within one to seven days after donation. Donor safety is a top priority. Be The Match® will follow up with you regularly until you’re able to resume normal activity.

Side Effects and Risks

There are rarely any long-term side effects from donating either PBSC or marrow. The donor’s immune system stays strong, and their blood stem cells replenish themselves in four to six weeks. While no medical procedure is completely risk free, every precaution is taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the donor.

The side effects experienced depend on the donor and the method of donation.

PBSC donation
Donors may experience headaches or bone or muscle aches for several days before donation. These are side effects of the filgrastim injections, which go away shortly after donation.

Common side effects related to donation itself include bruising at the needle site, numbness or tingling, and chills. These will go away shortly after the donation is completed. Most PBSC donors report a full recovery within 7 to 10 days of donation. 

Bone marrow donation
Donors can expect to feel some soreness in their lower back for a few days or longer after donation. Most marrow donors experience some pain, fatigue, and stiffness following the donation. Their marrow returns to normal levels within a few weeks. Many donors return to their normal routine in a few days, and most feel fully recovered within 21 days. 

As for risks, a very small percentage (1.34 percent) of donors experience a serious complication due to anesthesia or damage to bone, nerve, or muscle in their hip region.