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How Donating Blood Can Help Cancer Patients


Every 2 seconds in the U.S., someone is in desperate need of blood. This results in about 21 million blood transfusions each year across the country. Since blood is a resource that cannot be produced in a lab or made synthetically, it can only come from one source: Donations from generous citizens. In honor of National Blood Donor Month, those who are able should consider becoming a donor and learning more about the positive impact it can have on countless lives.


Why Blood Donations are Necessary   


Just like the body could not work without the lungs or brain, it also could not function without healthy blood pulsing throughout its veins. Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen through the body. Blood also delivers important nutrients to tissues and organs and helps rid them of waste products. Blood is a complex, essential part of life, which is why millions of donations each year are needed. In fact, one car accident victim can potentially require up to 100 units of blood. The three types of blood cells that make up donations include:


Red Blood Cells (RBCs): Red blood cells are what give blood its red color. These cells are full of an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin that works to carry oxygen.


Plasma: Plasma is a yellow liquid in the blood that carries red blood cells, platelets, and other important components like antibodies that help heal infections.


Platelets: Platelets are cells that help form clots and stop any bleeding after an injury. When there are not enough platelets in the blood to allow it to clot, life-threatening bleeding can take place.


How Donating Blood Can Help Cancer Patients


Those who most often need a transfusion are those who have just suffered an accident, have recently given birth or lost blood during surgery. However, there are many other people who need blood transfusions every day as well.  One less-commonly known group of people who often need donations are cancer patients. Those suffering from many forms of cancer, including bladder, kidney, and prostate cancer, depend on donor’s blood as they go through treatment.


Some cancer patients will need whole blood transfusions, and some may require only platelets. Reasons a cancer patient may need blood donations include:


Low RBCs: If a patient’s treatment has caused low red blood cells, or anemia, they may be in need of a whole blood transfusion. A whole blood transfusion may also be needed if too much blood was lost during surgery, such as partial nephrectomy or prostatectomy. Being sure the patient has enough healthy blood in their body is vital to making a full recovery.


Low Platelets: If a patient develops low platelets, it is known as thrombocytopenia. This condition usually occurs when there is damage to the bone marrow and is fairly common in cancer patients undergoing certain types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The effects of chemo and radiation on the bone marrow are typically temporary, however. Chemotherapy is often only required for Stage 4 prostate cancer treatment, and very advanced cases of bladder and renal cancer when surgery and radiation are no longer options.



Requirements and Guidelines for Donating


If you would like to donate blood to help those in need, a great first step is to locate your local Red Cross blood drive or blood bank. To donate, you will need to bring identification and meet a few general qualifications:


  • Be at least 16, or have a parent’s consent to donate
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds
  • Have not donated in the past 56 days


Even if you meet these general requirements, you may not be qualified to donate blood under certain circumstances. Upon arrival, you will be asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire to ensure you meet all of the eligibility guidelines. You will not be allowed to donate if you:


  • Take certain medications: Certain medications, like blood thinners, may make it dangerous to donate. Additionally, those taking antibiotics to fight off an infection should not donate blood. Once off these medications for a certain amount of time, you should be able to donate again.
  • Have certain health conditions: Those who suffer from high blood pressure, low blood pressure, HIV, hepatitis, or a heart condition, should not donate blood for their own health and the health of others.
  • Have recently traveled to high-risk countries: Those who have recently been to countries with high rates of malaria, mad cow disease, or other dangerous viruses will be required to wait a minimum of three years before donating blood to ensure they are not carrying the virus.
  • Are pregnant: Those who are pregnant or have recently given birth will not be eligible to give blood. It is advised that new mothers wait at least six weeks before donating blood.
  • Have a history of cancer: Those who have been diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma in the past may not qualify to donate blood. However, those who have had other types of cancer in the past may be eligible.



What to Expect When Donating


Whole-blood donations are the most common form of blood donation. They are typically side-effect free and last only around ten minutes. After, donors are typically given juice and a snack to help prevent any feelings of lightheadedness. Heavy exercise is discouraged for the rest of the day, and donors are typically welcome to donate again after eight weeks.


Donating platelets or plasma, a process called apheresis, is slightly more involved than a whole blood donation. It can leave donors with mild side effects, and they are limited to 13-24 donations per year. During the donation process, blood is removed from one arm, and the platelets are taken out of the blood in a centrifuge. Then, the rest of the blood enters back into the donor through the other arm. This allows for more platelets to be collected than in a normal blood donation.


If you or someone you love is suffering from prostate, bladder or kidney cancer and would like to learn more about blood donation, contact Advanced Urology today.