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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Blood Cell Transplant

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Joining the Registry Questions

People who want to join the registry to become a marrow donor can find answers to many of their questions on this page.

  • Questions about donating bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells are answered at Donation FAQs.
  • Answers to questions about whether a donor and patient can meet each other, the number of people in need of a transplant, and the need for more marrow donors are at General FAQs.
  • Answers to questions about bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants, such as What is a transplant? and How long does it take to find a donor found? are at Transplant FAQs.

If your questions are not here or elsewhere on this website, please send your question to feedback@hrsa.gov.

Thinking about joining the registry to become a marrow donor

Matching a patient

I’ve already been tested

Thinking about joining the registry to become a marrow donor

How do I become a marrow donor?

The first step to becoming a marrow donor is to join the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated umbilical cord blood units.

Doctors around the world search the registry to find an unrelated marrow donor or cord blood unit for their patients. If a doctor selects you as a suitable match for a patient, you may be asked to donate bone marrow or circulating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). Patients need donors between the ages of 18 and 60 who meet health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient in need.

To learn more, see Joining the registry.

What is my commitment if I join the registry?

When you join the registry*, you make a commitment to:
  • Be listed on the registry until your 61st birthday, unless you ask to be removed
  • Consider donating to any patient who matches you
  • Tell the Be The Match Registry if your address changes, you have significant health changes, or you change your mind about being a donor
  • Respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match for a patient

Donating is always voluntary. You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. However, please think seriously about your commitment before joining.

If you decide you do not want to donate, tell the Be The Match Registry right away. That way, the search for another donor can continue without dangerous delays for the patient.

To tell the Be The Match Registry that your contact information has changed, your health has changed, or you no longer want to donate, you can either:

*The registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. The registry is operated under Federal contracts by the National Marrow Donor Program®(NMDP).

What are the age requirements to be a marrow donor?

Volunteer donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60.

An individual must be 18 to donate because marrow donation is a surgical procedure and the person undergoing the procedure must legally be able to give informed consent, as stated in the policy of the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)*. A guardian or parent cannot sign a release or give consent because unrelated bone marrow donation is a voluntary procedure and is not beneficial or life-saving to the donor.

The upper age, 60, protects the safety of the donor and provides the best possible treatment for the patient.

Learn more about joining the registry exit disclaimer

*The registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. The registry is operated under Federal contracts by the National Marrow Donor Program®(NMDP).

Can I become a donor or join the registry if I do not live in the United States?

The first step to becoming a donor is to join a registry of potential marrow donors. If you do not live in the United States or Puerto Rico, contact an international registry that is near you.

Doctors around the world search the registry to find an unrelated marrow donor or umbilical cord blood unit for their patients. If a doctor selects you as a suitable match for a patient, you may be asked to donate bone marrow or circulating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). Patients need donors between the ages of 18 and 60 who meet health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient.

To learn more, see Joining the registry.

Matching a patient

How likely is it that I will donate to someone?

The likelihood of matching a patient is difficult to predict because there is much diversity in tissue types. You may never be identified as a match for someone needing a transplant. Or, if yours is the same tissue type as a patient in need, you may be identified along with other volunteers as potential donors. The patient's doctors decide which donors to contact.

Every person who joins the registry gives searching patients hope.

How is a marrow match determined?

Doctors look for a marrow donor or cord blood unit that matches the patient's tissue type, specifically the patient's human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type.

HLA are proteins—or markers—found on most cells in your body. Your immune system uses these markers to recognize the cells that belong in your body and those that do not. The closer the match between the patient's and the donor's HLA markers, the better for the patient. Because tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity.

Learn more about Donating Marrow and The Need for More Donors.

What happens if I match a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant?

You will be contacted by a representative from the Be The Match Registry®, and asked if you are still interested in being a donor. If you agree, you will be asked to participate in more testing to see if you are the best possible match for the patient. (You may be asked for another blood or cheek swab sample, or the stored sample may be used.)

If you are selected as the best donor for the patient—and you agree to donate—the Be The Match Registry will schedule an informational session, either in person or by telephone. At this session you will learn more about the donation process, risks, and side effects. You can also find out the type of donation the patient's doctor has requested—either bone marrow or cells collected from the blood, called peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. Then, if you confirm your decision to donate, you will begin the donation process.

To learn more about the donation process, see Donating Marrow.

*The registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. The registry is operated under Federal contracts by the National Marrow Donor Program®(NMDP).

Can I change my mind about being a marrow donor?

After joining the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, you have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary.

If you decide not to donate, tell this immediately to the Be The Match Registry. The NMDP will need to continue the search for another donor without dangerous—even life-threatening—delays for the patient.

To change your mind about donating, either:

I’ve already been tested

I've already been tested for a family member. How can I add my results to the registry*?

To add your information to the registry:

  • Get a copy of your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue typing lab report.
  • Contact the Be The Match Registry U.S. Donor Center exit disclaimer in your area. The donor center will give more instructions, such as how to fill out a health history form to verify you meet medical guidelines exit disclaimer and sign a consent form agreeing to be listed on the registry.

After your tissue type is listed on the registry, you will be contacted if you are identified as a possible match for a patient.

*The registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. The registry is operated under Federal contracts by the National Marrow Donor Program®(NMDP).

I think I may have already joined. How can I verify that I am on the registry?

Whether you join the registry online or in person, you are part of the same registry*.

If you have previously given a blood sample or cheek cell sample to be tested for the registry, you do not need to join again.

If you are unsure whether you joined the registry, call Be The Match Registry® at 1 (800) MARROW-2 (1-800-627-7692).

*The registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®, is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. The registry is operated under Federal contracts by the National Marrow Donor Program®(NMDP).