Donating your blood and bone marrow is strictly a voluntary decision. When you decide to do this on behalf of someone else, you agree to let the doctors draw blood stem cells from your blood or bone marrow which will in turn be transplanted into the recipient. Donations such as these are used to treat certain cancers and other diseases. If you have a family member who requires a transplant, you may be a good match for that individual.
What exactly are blood stem cells? Simply put, they are the cells that make all of the body’s blood cells. After forming in the bone marrow, they enter the bloodstream. They are not to be confused, however, with the embryonic stem cells used in cloning and other research endeavors.
Until recent years, all donors had to undergo surgery in order for the bone marrow to be retrieved. Bone marrow was drawn from the hip bones. Now, however, blood stem cells can be directly collected from the blood. This is referred to as peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. The blood stem cells can also be obtained from the umbilical cord at birth, but in small amounts only.
The risks associated with this particular type of donation are slight. However, the PBSC form of donation necessitates that you take a medication to draw more blood stem cells from your bone marrow. As a result, certain side effects may present, such as headaches, fatigue, bone pain, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and sleep disruption. Fortunately, the potential side affects dissipate within a few days after taking the injections.
The process of taking the blood stem cells from your blood can also cause a few milder side effects, such as the chills, numbness or tingling around your mouth, a feeling of lightheadedness, and cramps in your hands. These can all be treated and will discontinue after the donation process is completed.
By conducting a test called human leukocyte antigen (HLA), doctors can determine if you are a match for the recipient. You inherit your HLA proteins from your mother and father. As such, full siblings are usually the best opportunity for a match.