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Cancer Awareness and Prevention

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The basics of bone marrow donation

The decision to become a bone marrow donor is a selfless and heroic act. According to Be the Match®, a global leader in marrow transplantation, a bone marrow or cord blood transplant may be the best treatment option or the only potential cure for patients with various diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia.

The decision to become a bone marrow donor is not one to take lightly. Learning about bone marrow donation can help people make the most informed decision possible.

What is bone marrow donation?

Be the Match® notes that bone marrow donation is one of two ways that doctors collect blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. Donation is a surgical procedure, and donors will be given anesthesia and feel no pain during the operation. During the procedure, surgeons will use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from both sides of the back of the pelvic bone. That liquid marrow is then transported to the patient's location for transplant.

Are there any side effects of donation?

Within two days of the procedure, donors have reported various side effects. The most commonly reported side effect, according to Be the Match®, is back or hip pain, which is felt by 84 percent of donors. Fatigue (61 percent), throat pain (32 percent) and muscle pain (24 percent) are some other common side effects of donation. Prospective donors should note that the typical hospital stay for marrow donation is from early morning to late afternoon. While some donors are kept overnight for observation, many go home to sleep in their own beds after donation.

What does a transplant accomplish?

The human body needs healthy marrow and blood cells to live. Stanford Children's Health notes that red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets serve life-maintaining functions. But blood cells can be threatened by various conditions, including leukemia. Transplants can replace diseased, nonfunctional bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Bone marrow transplants also may be used to replace the bone marrow and restore its normal function after high doses of chemotherapy or radiation are administered during cancer treatments. Stanford Children's Health notes that some transplants also may replace bone marrow with genetically healthy, functioning bone marrow as doctors try to prevent further damage from some genetic diseases.

Becoming a bone marrow donor can save lives. Prospective donors who want to learn more can visit BeTheMatch.org.

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