How Donating Blood and Platelets Helps Cancer Patients

August 31, 2020

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. These include:

  • 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, tiny blood cells that allow blood to clot and help 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. Cancer patients may require transfusions of red blood cells, plasma, platelets, or all three for a variety of different reasons.

Football player Jordan Richards giving platelets at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center.

How you can help, even during COVID-19

There is no artificial substitute for the benefits of a blood or platelet transfusion, and these vital products only come from volunteer donors. If you are live near Dana-Farber, you can help by either:

  • Donating at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Donating blood onboard the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Blood Mobile

All of the donations made at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center and on the Blood Mobile help patients at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Donations are even more important now: The U.S. is now starting to experience blood and platelet shortages across the country due to COVID-19. The Kraft Family Blood Donor Center has implemented additional infection control practices during this time and encourages any individuals who are healthy and eligible to donate.

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. 

More about how donated blood and platelets help patients

Certain kinds of cancer treatment often include blood transfusions, especially if the cancer begins in the bone marrow. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow, so if the marrow is being affected by cancer, that can lead to low blood cell counts and other complications. This includes cancers like leukemias, multiple myeloma, and some lymphomas. Digestive system cancers can also be treated with blood transfusions because they often cause internal bleeding.

Chemotherapy and radiation can damage cells in the bone marrow that manufacture blood and platelets. This may lead to low blood cell counts, which can cause anemia or increase the risk of infections or bleeding. Blood transfusions help to alleviate these side effects. In some cases, patients may also need blood transfusions during or after surgery. Likewise, patients who have had a stem cell transplant may need blood or platelets because they are usually treated with large doses of chemotherapy before the transplant.

There are many patients still in need of blood transfusions during these challenging times. If you are able, we hope that you will consider donating. Please visit the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center to schedule an appointment or get more information.