Directed Blood Donations: A Gift to Cancer Patients

By Julie Grisham,

Thursday, October 16, 2014


For family and friends looking to contribute in any way they can, giving blood on behalf of a particular patient can be a great help.

People with cancer require more blood products than those with any other type of illness. Chemotherapy and radiation can deplete the body’s ability to create blood cells, requiring many cancer patients to receive transfusions to be able to continue their treatment. This makes a healthy supply of blood and platelets crucial.

Memorial Sloan Kettering transfuses about 40,000 units of blood products to our patients each year. About 25 percent of that blood is collected in our donor room, which accepts donations from MSK staff and others who live and work in our community.

“Another very important source of donations is directed donations that come from friends and family members of patients,” says Joe Licata, manager of MSK’s Blood Donor Program. “We want to make sure our patients know about the service that we provide and that they encourage their friends and family members to give. These directed donations help us to maintain a safe supply of blood products.”

A Simple Procedure

Donating blood or platelets is easy and safe. All needles and supplies are sterile, disposable, and used only once before being discarded. Giving blood takes about an hour, and giving platelets takes about two and a half hours. Most donors feel fine after donating blood or platelets, and as long as you feel well, you can resume normal activities immediately after leaving the Donor Room.

Directed donors must meet the same eligibility criteria as other volunteer donors, which means they must be in good general health, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be at least 16 years old (though 16 year olds are not eligible to donate platelets). Parental consent for 16 year olds is required for blood donation; if you’re 76 or older, your physician’s written approval is required for blood or platelet donation.

Because it takes several days to test and process blood and platelet donations before they can be released for use, directed donations cannot be made for emergency transfusions.

In some cases, patients may be able to donate blood for their own future use — a few weeks prior to a scheduled surgery, for example.

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Helping People with Cancer

If you donate to a specific patient and we determine your blood is not compatible with that patient’s blood type, it will be released for use by other patients. Generally only the red cells are reserved for the designated patient’s use, and the other blood components are put into the general inventory of our blood bank for use by others.

In addition, to prevent blood from being wasted, if the designated patient does not use the red cells within 25 days, the unit will be made available for use by other patients. Platelets that are not used by a designated patient within five days will also be made available for use by others.

 “We often hear from friends and family that they want to help our patients in any way they can,” Mr. Licata says. “Donating blood and platelets is truly a way that they can help not only the person they know but in many cases other patients as well.”

Visit our updated Blood Donation Pages for more information about eligibility requirements and to learn how to schedule an appointment.

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Can someone who was treated for breast cancer ten years ago donate blood without risk to the person receiving it?

Rebecca, yes, someone who has had breast cancer can donate. You would have to be cancer free for at least one year and not taking any medications like Tamoxifen or Arimidex for at least a year. Thank you for thinking about donating!

I would like to know where does MSKCC purchase their blood products from, I would also like to donate blood. Thanks.

Dear Diane, our Blood Donor Room is located at 1250 First Avenue
(Between 67th and 68th Streets), New York, NY, 10065. For questions about our blood products and to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets, please call us at 212-639-8177.

Thank you for your comment.

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