January is Blood Donation Awareness Month, and statistics highlight why attention to this topic is so important. According to the American Red Cross, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in the US, and 25% of the annual blood supply will be needed for many of these cancer patients. This need is greater than for any other patient fighting any other disease. To maintain life-sustaining treatments, cancer patients need access to blood and blood components. With only 3% of the population regularly donating, Southern Cancer Center urges you to contribute.
Why Do Cancer Patients Require Blood Donations?
Treatments often require transfusions:
- Cancer patients who undergo surgery often need to replenish blood loss.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapies can affect the bone marrow, which contains the stem cells that develop red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection, and platelets that control bleeding.
The effects of cancer have several serious impacts on blood count levels:
- Sometimes a patient’s ability to produce red blood cells (RBCs) is compromised due to their disease’s long-term and persistent nature.
- Certain cancers may cause internal bleeding due to the origin of the cancer.
- Blood and bone marrow cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, directly affect the healthy and balanced production of blood cells.
As a result, cancer patients are at greater risk for life-threatening infection, excessive bleeding, or anemia.
What Types of Donations Are There?
- Whole blood donations contain red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. A unit or pint of blood is drawn by inserting a needle in a vein. This type of donation takes 10 – 15 minutes.
- Platelet or other component donations require a longer collection process. In this type of donation, the blood is drawn from one arm and mechanically separated for the required part (usually platelets, but also plasma, red blood cells, or white blood cells). The rest of the blood is returned to the donor through a vein in the opposite arm. This process can take 2+ hours, depending on what is being collected.
What Are Donor Requirements?
Donors must be in good health, at least 17 years old (16 with parental consent in some states) and weigh at least 110 pounds. Pregnant women are not allowed to donate and must wait a minimum of six weeks after childbirth before they are eligible for screening. Those taking blood thinners or certain other medications may not be able to donate until they have completed their dosages, and there may be an additional waiting period for the body to clear those medications.
Whole blood donors must wait eight weeks between donations; platelet donors can repeat the process after seven days, up to 24 times a year.
Those interested in giving platelets should additionally:
- Avoid any form of aspirin for at least 48 hours before donating
- Increase fluid and calcium intake in the preceding days
- Avoid strenuous activity immediately after donating
To donate blood or for more information on eligibility, please visit RedCrossBlood.org.