If you’ve ever donated blood or platelets, there’s a reasonable chance that your donation went to help a cancer patient. That’s because cancer and certain treatments can damage blood cells, which means some patients may need transfusions of one or more types of blood components:
- red blood cells, which carry oxygen to organs throughout the body and take carbon dioxide to your lungs to be exhaled. When red blood cell counts are low, a person can feel weak and tired.
- plasma, a fluid composed primarily of water, proteins, salts, sugar, fats, and hormones. Its main role is to transport blood and platelets throughout your body, along with vitamins, waste products, antibodies, and more.
- platelets, the component that allows blood to clot and helps stop or prevent bleeding when cuts or other open wounds occur. If platelets are low, a patient may be more likely to bleed.
All three of these components are vital to people with cancer, blood diseases, or other health problems. For example:
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can damage cells in the bone marrow that manufacture blood and platelets. This may lead to low blood cell counts, which can increase the risk of infections or bleeding. A transfusion of donated red blood cells or platelets helps address such problems.
Surgery can result in blood loss, which may necessitate the need for a transfusion of red blood cells, plasma, or platelets – or all three.
Patients who have had a stem cell transplant often need blood or platelets because treatments involved in the process may affect the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. Cancers such as leukemia and multiple myeloma can also lead to low blood counts because they, too, affect the bone marrow.
How You Can Help
There is no artificial substitute for the benefits of a blood or platelet transfusion, and these vital products only come from volunteer donors. You can help by donating at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You can also donate blood onboard the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Blood Mobile.
A typical blood donation appointment lasts under an hour, while donating platelets takes about 90 minutes. You must be age 17 or older, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good general health.
To schedule an appointment or learn more, call the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at 617-632-3206 or email BloodDonor@partners.org.