Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor: Myth and Reality

Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma. Sometimes their best or only hope of a cure is a transplant from an unrelated marrow donor or cord blood unit. People who need transplants depend on strangers – someone like you, who can help give them a second chance at life. Doctors search the National Bone Marrow Registry (Be The Match) to find donors who match their patients, but myths and mystery about donation often prevent people from signing up.

Myth: Becoming part of the bone marrow registry is complex.
Reality: Joining the bone marrow registry is easy. It involves completing a health history form and giving a swab of cheek cells (done by wiping the inside of your cheek with a swab). You can go to a donor drive and do this in person or start the process online ( and complete it in your own home. To join, people need to be between the ages of 18 – 60, willing to donate to any patient in need, and meet health guidelines.

Myth: Bone marrow donation is expensive.
Reality: Joining the registry is free (you are invited to give a donation to help defray costs if you wish). The cost of the actual bone marrow donation (if you are a match) is covered by the person needing the transplant.

Myth: Bone marrow donation is painful.
Reality: Joining the registry is painless. While there may be some discomfort from an actual bone marrow donation, most donors say they would do it again to save a life. If a member of the registry is called as a potential match for a patient, he or she will be asked to give another cheek swab sample or blood sample to confirm that he or she is the best possible match. The donor will also attend an information session to learn more.

There are two ways to donate if called. Most donations do not involve surgery. About 75 percent of the time, the patient’s doctor requests a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. If the patient’s doctor requests marrow (about 25 percent of the time), the donation process is a surgical procedure performed in a hospital. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure. The doctor decides which method is best for a patient.

Myth: Everyone can easily find a donor match within their family.
Reality: Every day, more than 6,000 patients search the national registry for a life-saving donor because a match could not be found in the family.

Myth: You can’t be a match.
Reality: You could be a match and save a life.

We all have the power to help, the power to give hope. Click here to learn more about becoming a marrow donor.


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About The Bone Marrow Foundation

Founded in 1992, The Bone Marrow Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bone marrow, stem cell, and cord blood transplant patients and their families by providing vital financial assistance, emotional support, and comprehensive educational programs. The Foundation is the only organization of its kind that does not limit assistance to a specific disease, type of transplant or age range.

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