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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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Donation Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about bone marrow donation and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation are answered on this page.

  • Questions about joining the registry to become a donor are answered at Joining 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 FAQ.
  • 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 FAQ.

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

Donating my cells

Donating bone marrow

Donating peripheral blood stem cells

After donating

Donating my cells

How much time does it take to donate?

Becoming an unrelated marrow donor through the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program (also called the Be The Match Registry®) requires a time commitment. Before you donate, there are several steps to make sure you are the best donor for the patient. These steps include an information session to provide resources to help you make your decision to donate, as well as appointments for additional blood tests and a physical exam. The amount of time for the actual donation depends on the donation procedure.

The typical time commitment for the donation process is 20-30 hours of your time spread out over a four-to six-week period. This does not include travel time, which is defined by air travel and staying overnight in a hotel. Nearly 40% of donors will travel during the donation process. Bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation require about the same total time commitment.

To learn more, see Donating Marrow.

How are bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation different?

Donors on the registry* may be asked to donate bone marrow or PBSC for any patient in need.

  • Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure done under general or regional anesthesia in the hospital. While a donor receives anesthesia, doctors make several small incisions through the skin over the back of the pelvic bones to draw out the marrow.
  • PBSC donation is a non-surgical procedure done in an outpatient clinic. The donor first receives daily injections of a medication called filgrastim for five days leading up to the donation. This medication increases the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. Then, the cells are collected through a process called apheresis. During apheresis a donor's blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.

When you join the registry, you agree to donate by either method. The patient's doctor will ask for either bone marrow or PBSC, depending upon what's best for the patient.

Learn more about marrow and PBSC donation at 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).

Donating bone marrow

What happens during bone marrow donation?

Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in an operating room. As an unrelated donor on the Be The Match Registry®, the donation procedure will be scheduled by the Be The Match Registry at a hospital that partners with the Be The Match Registry. In some cases, the hospital may be near your home. In other cases, you may be asked to travel. Travel and other donation related expenses are covered.

A representative from the Be The Match Registry will guide you through the process and be available the day of your bone marrow donation.

  • Hospital Stay: You will arrive at the hospital outpatient facility on the day of the donation. You will stay in the hospital usually from early morning to late afternoon, though some hospitals routinely plan for an overnight hospital stay.
  • Anesthesia: You will be given anesthesia to block the pain during the marrow donation. If general anesthesia is used, you will be unconscious during the donation. If you receive regional anesthesia (either spinal or epidural), medication will block sensation in the affected area, but you will remain aware of your surroundings. In the last several years, general anesthesia has been used for most bone marrow donations facilitated through the Be The Match Registry.
  • Donation: During the bone marrow donation, you will be lying on your stomach. While the donation varies slightly from hospital to hospital, generally, the doctors make several (typically one to four) small incisions through the skin over the back of the pelvic bones. The incisions are less than one-fourth inch long and do not require stitches. The doctors will insert a special hollow needle through these incisions over the rear of the pelvic bone. A syringe is attached to the needle to draw out the marrow.
  • Recovery: Hospital staff will watch you closely until the anesthesia wears off, and continue to monitor your condition afterwards. Most donors go home the same day or the next morning. After you leave the hospital, a representative from the Be The Match Registry will contact you on a regular basis to ask about your physical condition and any side effects you are experiencing. Most donors are back to their normal routine within several days.

Learn more about 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).

Does donating bone marrow hurt? Are there side effects?

Bone marrow donation is done under general or regional anesthesia so the donor experiences no pain during the donation procedure. Discomfort and side effects after the donation vary from person to person. Most marrow donors experience some side effects.

Common side effects of marrow donation include:

  • Back or hip pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Bruising at the collection site

The amount of marrow donated will not weaken your own body or immune system. The average amount of marrow and blood donated is about 1 quart, less if the patient is a baby or child. You may feel some soreness in your back for a few days, or possibly a week or more. Most donors are back to their usual routine in a few days.

Learn the Myths & Facts about Bone Marrow Donation exit disclaimer

Are there any risks to bone marrow donation?

The National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP) wants to assure the safety of unrelated donors, but no medical procedure is risk-free. The majority (more than 98.5%) of bone marrow donors on the Be The Match Registry® feel completely recovered within a few weeks. A small percentage (1.3%) of donors experience a serious complication due to anesthesia or damage to bone, nerve, or muscle in their hip region.

The risk of side effects of anesthesia during bone marrow donation is similar to that during other surgical procedures. Serious side effects of anesthesia are rare. Common side effects of general anesthesia include sore throat (caused by the breathing tube), mild nausea, and vomiting. Common side effects of regional anesthesia are a decrease in blood pressure and a headache after the procedure.

The NMDP and its centers take all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of the donor.

To learn more, see Safeguarding Donors and Patients 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).

Donating peripheral blood stem cells

What is PBSC donation?

PBSC donation is a way to collect blood-forming cells for transplantation. The same blood-forming cells (sometimes called blood stem cells) that can be donated from the bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood.

As an unrelated donor on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program (also called the Be The Match Registry), the donation procedure will be scheduled by the Be The Match Registry at a facility that partners with the Be The Match Registry. In some cases, the facility may be near your home. In other cases, you may be asked to travel. Travel and other donation related expenses are covered.

Donating PBSC involves two steps:

  1. Receiving filgrastim injections. To increase and move more blood-forming cells from your bone marrow to your bloodstream, you will receive filgrastim, a medication given by injection each day for five days before the donation. The first injection will be given at a donor center or medical clinic. You may receive injections on the second, third, and fourth day at your place of work, your home, at a donor center, or at a medical clinic. On the fifth day, you will receive your final dose of filgrastim, and then donate your blood cells at a blood center or hospital outpatient unit.
  2. Donating the cells. PBSC donation is done through a process called apheresis, which is similar to donating plasma. During apheresis, a needle will be placed into each of your arms. Blood will be removed from a vein in one arm and passed through tubing into a blood cell separator machine. The machine collects blood-forming cells, platelets, and some white blood cells. Plasma and red blood cells are returned to your body through the other arm. All the tubing used in the machine is sterile and is used only once for your donation. Seventy-five percent of all PBSC donations are completed in one apheresis session, which may last up to eight hours. The remaining 25 percent of donations are completed in two apheresis sessions, which will take four to six hours each day.

Learn more about PBSC donation exit disclaimer

Why is PBSC donation considered investigational?

The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) is studying peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donations as a clinical trial under an investigational new drug application (IND) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of filgrastim stimulated PBSC in hematopoietic cell transplant involving unrelated donors and to determine the effects of this donation process on unrelated stem cell donors. A clinical research study has a written set of instructions for how a donation will be carried out. It is an important scientific way to evaluate the PBSC donation process and the donated product's effectiveness.

*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).

Does donating PBSC hurt? Are there side effects?

PBSC donors may experience headache or bone pain and muscle aches, similar to a cold or the flu, for several days before collection. These are side effects of the filgrastim injections and disappear shortly after donation. Other common side effects are nausea, trouble sleeping, and tiredness. Less than 1 percent of donors have an allergic reaction to filgrastim, which may include skin rashes or shortness of breath.

The PBSC donation procedure can also have side effects. Some donors experience tingling around the mouth, fingers, and toes; bruising at the needle site, chills, and decrease in blood platelet count. This is caused by the anti-coagulant (blood thinner) used in the apheresis procedure. These symptoms are easily treated by slowing down the procedure or giving the donor calcium. Less common side effects of the donation procedure are a decrease in the blood platelet count, lightheadedness, and nausea.

Are there risks to donating PBSC?

Yes, however, fewer than 1 percent of PBSC donors experience a serious side effect from the donation process.

PBSC donation may require placing a central venous line if you do not have suitable veins in your arm. A central line is a sterile tube that is inserted into one of the larger veins: the femoral vein, internal jugular vein, or subclavian vein. Based on the experience of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), 19 percent of women and 3 percent of men require a central line. The risk of serious complications from using a central line is small. A central line will be placed only with your consent after you have received information about the possible risks.

Another potential risk is associated with filgrastim injections. Though filgrastim is commonly used to treat cancer patients, using filgrastim in healthy donors is fairly new. Therefore, no data are yet available about the long-term safety. The NMDP began using filgrastim to aid in transplants in the 1990s. Since then, no NMDP donors have reported any long-term complications from filgrastim injections.

*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).

After donating

What if I have medical complications related to the donation?

As an unrelated donor on the registry*, you are covered by a donor life, disability, and medical insurance policy. If you have a complication from the donation process, you will receive coverage.

For your safety, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) contracts with health care organizations and doctors who are experts in bone marrow and blood cell transplants.

Learn about the Donor Advocacy Program 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).