Can Cancer Survivors Donate Blood?

Categories: Cancer Survivorship, Survivorship & Helping Others

June 16, 2020

You've bravely fought your battle with cancer and want to give back, but can you donate blood as a cancer survivor? Ultimately, this will depend on the type of cancer you've had, the treatment you've gone through, and what organization you  plan to donate with. Read on to learn more about blood donations after cancer treatment as well as alternatives to blood donations, such as platelets and tissue donation. 

Blood Donation After Cancer Treatment 

Every cancer survivor's ability to donate blood will primarily be on a case by case basis. Eligibility is ultimately determined by the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. There are some types of cancer that automatically make you ineligible for blood donations. If you've had the following types of cancer, you are unfortunately unable to donate your blood. 

  • Leukemia 
  • Lymphoma 
  • Hodgkin's disease 
  • Myeloma 
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Other cancers of the blood 

Ultimately, having had any type of blood cancer rules you out from blood donation in the future. Although, if you've had a different type of cancer, there is a potential that you could be eligible for blood donation in the future. However, there are some primary criteria you must meet to be eligible for blood donation.

If you've had lower risk precancerous conditions or in-situ cancers like squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin, you are typically not required to go through the 12-month waiting period before blood donation. After removal of the skin cancer, the waiting period is only around four weeks. However, if you had a type of malignant cancer such as breast, prostate, colon, or melanoma, you will be required to go through the 12-month waiting period before blood donation is considered. 

Donating Platelets After Cancer Treatment 

Platelets are the tiny cells in your blood that help to form clots and stop bleeding. The blood's ability to clot prevents all of us from bleeding out too much from an injury. When an individual's platelets are low, it can lead to severe or life-threatening issues. Low platelets are a particular concern for those who are dealing with cancer. 

Overall, platelet donation is in high demand. Every 15 seconds, someone is in need of platelets. Platelet donation is also time-dependent as platelets must be used within five days of collection. Many cancer patients require platelet transfusions as part of their cancer treatment, specifically those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants.

As a cancer survivor yourself, it's only natural that you would want to give back in the same manner that you were saved. However, the guidelines for platelet donors are similar to blood donation guidelines. Cancer survivors of solid tumor cancers are eligible to donate platelets 12 months after completing treatment and receiving a clean bill of health. Cancer survivors of blood cancers are ineligible to donate platelets due to the nature of their disease. 

If you have survived a solid tumor type of cancer, you are encouraged to look into donating platelets as the need for platelet donation is great. All blood types, excluding type O negative and type B negative, are encouraged to try platelet donation. The reason that blood types O negative and B negative are not encouraged to pursue platelet donation is that their blood is needed more as a whole blood donation. 

Tissue Donation After Cancer Treatment 

On average, 39,000 tissue donors provide lifesaving and healing tissue for transplants each year, and doctors end up performing around 1.75 million tissue transplants each year.

There are two types of tissue donors:

  1. living tissue donors
  2. deceased tissue donors

Most tissue donation occurs after the donor has died. However, there are still nearly 6,000 living tissue donations take place each year.

The tissue donations that occur after the donor has died must be initiated within 24 hours of an individual's death. Unlike with organ donations, donated tissue can be processed and stored for an extended period of time.

Common tissue donations include: 

  • corneas
  • sclera
  • heart valves
  • skin
  • bone
  • tendons
  • amniotic tissue

Tissue transplants are in great need, but can you donate your tissues if you went through cancer treatment?

Once again, any cancer survivor's eligibility for being a tissue or organ donor largely depends on the cancer you've had and any existing medical conditions you have had to receive treatment for cancer. Accepting tissue or organ donation from individuals with actively spreading cancer upon their death is not recommended by UNOS. However, individuals who have successfully went through cancer treatment will most likely be able to donate organs or tissues, as passing cancer on to an organ or tissue recipient is very small.

Related Read: Can I Donate my Organs After Cancer?

Tissue donation is also a vital part of cancer research. Even if you can't donate your tissue directly to a recipient, there is a good possibility that your tissue could be used as part of a cancer research study. Research donations are vital to the medical community as they help increase knowledge of the disease and help uncover new cancer treatment methods. Tissue donation can provide so much to both recipients and the medical community as a whole.  

Overall, the best step to take when looking to donate blood, platelets, or tissue, is to contact your local Red Cross or local blood donation centers. The American Red Cross Portland Donation Center is local to our practices, and they are equipped to handle red blood cells, plasma, and platelet donations. They should be able to direct you to the nearest blood drive location and help you determine if you, specifically, are eligible for blood donations. If you are still unsure about your ability to donate, reach out to your cancer care team to get a more definitive answer. 

Do You Have More Questions? 

If you have more questions regarding donation eligibility after cancer or cancer questions in general, feel free to contact us today. At Compass Oncology, we know that facing a returning to "normal" after cancer treatments are complete can be frightening. The good news is that you don't have to go through this experience alone. We will be there to help you.  

Free Cancer Survivors Guidebook

Resources: