Can Cancer Survivors Donate Blood or Platelets?

Blood products like whole blood and platelets are lifesaving for cancer patients at Dana-Farber and elsewhere. It comes as no surprise, then, that many cancer survivors want to return the favor by donating at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, which collects blood products to benefit patients at both Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Blood Mobile
Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Blood Mobile

Survivors of solid tumor cancers are eligible to donate blood and platelets beginning one year after they stop taking medication for their cancer; however, survivors of blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and other blood disorders, are permanently deferred due to the nature of their diseases. The timeframe for solid tumor survivors has recently been reduced from five years, as there has never been a report of cancer spreading through blood transfusion. Blood donation does not pose an increased risk to an otherwise healthy cancer survivor one year after treatment has ended.

Some individuals with early stage, localized, solid tumor cancers who have not yet had chemotherapy or radiation, and who feel well, may also be able to donate blood products upon approval from their physician. All blood and platelet donors must also pass the Kraft Center’s vital sign screening, hemoglobin check, and medical questionnaire.

Those who are able to donate can make an appointment at the Kraft Center by calling 617-632-3206 or emailing Individuals who are unable to donate for medical reasons can still get involved and help by sponsoring a blood drive with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Blood Mobile, the traveling extension of the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center; recruiting others to donate; or volunteering at the Kraft Center.

Thanks to William Savage, MD, PhD, medical director of the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, and Malissa Lichtenwalter, supervisor of donor recruitment, for providing the information used in this article.

4 thoughts on “Can Cancer Survivors Donate Blood or Platelets?”

  1. This article is not entirely clear. You wrote: ”Survivors of solid tumor cancers are eligible to donate blood and platelets beginning one year after they stop taking medication for their cancer…” Such a statement would imply that the majority of breast cancer patients, i.e. those with ER+ cancers, cannot donate blood for anywhere from five to ten years after they finish active treatment since they would be on endocrine therapy during that time. (As you know, the new guidelines recommend that ER+ breast cancer patients consider staying on Tamoxifen for ten years.) Do aromatase inhibitors and Tamoxifen qualify as cancer ”medications?” If so, at what point can breast cancer survivors who are on endocrine therapy donate blood?

    • Dear Alexa —
      Thank you for your comment and question. Therapy for breast cancer can be different than treatment for other cancers with an extended, preventative phase. Our policy currently does not differentiate between this type of adjunctive therapy for breast cancer and other types of cancer therapy, so people taking extended tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitor regimens currently would not be eligible to donate until one year after they have discontinued these medications.

      We are continuing to discuss whether this type of extended treatment should be considered differently for blood donor eligibility.

      Thank you again for your question and for reading Insight. Wishing you all the best!

  2. Thank you for answering my question. I think that most breast cancer survivors do not know that being on endocrine therapy disqualifies them from donating blood. Providing this information to patients either before or after active treatment might avoid confusion on the matter, and it would avoid having patients make appointments at the Kraft Center only to find out that they are ineligible to donate blood or platelets. Alternatively, this information could be posted online where breast cancer patients can find it themselves. In any event, please inform us if this policy changes in the future.

    • Thanks again for the comment, Alexa. We will certainly update online information if and when the policy changes. All the best!

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