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No bones about it: separating facts from marrow myths

March 12, 2024

Have you ever heard a bizarre myth about blood stem cell donation? Perhaps a well-meaning relative or an anxious friend shared a piece of advice that sounded more like an old wives’ tale than medical fact. Blood stem cell donation is shrouded in mystery for many, and is often the subject of misconceptions and folklore. In this article, we’ll debunk the myths and shed light on the truths behind blood stem cell donation.

1. MYTH: Donating bone marrow is extremely painful

Your parents have probably told you about painful extraction from your hip bones, but technology and medicine have come a long way since their day. The reality is much less dramatic.

FACT: Most blood stem cell donors give peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) in a process similar to donating blood or plasma.

“It’s amazing to think that a simple act of donating stem cells can have such a profound impact on someone’s life.”

Lachlan, stem cell donor

2. MYTH: I won’t be eligible to join the registry if I identify as a gay or bisexual male, or as trans.

We won’t ask you about your sexual orientation.

FACT: Your sexual orientation won’t stop you from making a difference as a donor. If you’re from the transgender or nonbinary community, we’ll respectfully ask about the sex you were assigned at birth for medical purposes when you join us. Your pronouns and gender identity? They’re treated with the highest respect throughout the entire journey. Everyone’s comfort matters.

3. MYTH: I’ve donated blood so I’ve already donated stem cells.

You may have registered as a donor when giving blood, but donations only happen when you’re a match.

FACT: Our friends over at @lifeblood sign up stem cell donors when you’re giving blood, but they don’t collect stem cells for transplants. Your time to shine comes when a patient is a tissue-type match and needs your help to save their life. Donating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) is simple, just like a long blood donation, and it all happens at experienced hospitals in major Australian cities.

If you’re curious whether you’re a registered stem cell donor, shoot us a PM and we’ll let you know.

4. MYTH: Asking about a donor’s ethnic background is racist.

Ethnic background is an important factor in matching donors and patients.

FACT: Patients are most likely to match someone of the same ethnic background. That’s because genetic type is inherited.  Adding more registry members who increase the ethnic diversity of the registry increases the variety of tissue types available, helping more patients find the match they need.

5. MYTH: Joining the registry means I’ll have to donate.

Joining our stem cell registry doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to donate.

FACT: We respect your choice and understand that circumstances vary. By joining, you’re showing your willingness to potentially save a life, but the decision to donate always remains in your hands.

6. MYTH: Blood stem cell donation requires a significant time commitment.

Blood stem cell donation does not require a significant time commitment.

FACT: Donation requires about 20 hours of your time, spread out over several weeks or months.

PBSC donation, which is the most common method of blood stem cell donation, typically takes between 4 and 6 hours. This includes the time required for the donor to receive the medication to increase stem cell production, as well as the time needed for the apheresis procedure. In most cases, donors are able to resume their normal activities within a day or two of the donation.

Bone marrow donation, which is a less common method of blood stem cell donation, is a more invasive procedure and typically requires a longer recovery period. However, the actual donation process itself typically takes no more than a few hours, and most donors are able to return to their normal activities within a week or two.

It is also important to note that donors can choose the timing of their donation to some extent. For example, PBSC donors may be able to choose a time that is convenient for them, and bone marrow donors may be able to schedule their donation for a time when they will have the necessary support and time off work.

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