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Can Cancer Survivors Donate Blood?

Posted on January 9, 2015 by Kelly Wolford
donating blood

There are many reasons why people want to donate blood. It may be because you want to participate in a school or office blood drive or because you know a family member, friend, classmate or co-worker who is in need of blood that matches your type. It may be because you needed blood in the past and realize how important it is for hospitals to have an ample supply of donated blood available for patients – you feel a sense of duty to give back.

However, what if you have been diagnosed with cancer: Does your medical condition prevent you from becoming a blood donor?

As we look ahead to 2015, which starts with “National Blood Donor Month,” we think it’s important to explain the answer to this question. It is not a clear-cut “yes” or “no” response.

Most organizations defer to the Red Cross, the largest blood-collection organization in the world, on this subject.

According to the Red Cross blood donor eligibility guidelines, it depends on the type of cancer that one has and the history of treatment he or she has received.

If you have leukemia, lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s Disease, and other cancers of the blood, you would not be allowed to participate in blood donation – even if the cancer is in remission.

If you have another type of cancer, your eligibility to donate blood will depend on whether the cancer has been successfully treated, whether 12 months or more have passed since the completion of the treatment and whether there has been no recurrence of the disease, according to the Red Cross.

However, the Red Cross states that you would not have to wait 12 months to be eligible to donate blood if you had a squamous or basal cancer of the skin, and it was completely removed.

“Precancerous conditions of the uterine cervix do not disqualify you from donation if the abnormality has been treated successfully,” the Red Cross explains. “You should discuss your particular situation with the health historian at the time of donation.”

Eligibility Standards for Blood Donation May Vary

The American Cancer Society states that blood collection centers may have slightly different standards for allowing cancer survivors to donate.

There has never been a report of cancer transmission by blood transfusion, according to the ACS. Also, if donated blood contained cancer cells, the recipient’s immune system would destroy them.

However, transfusion recipients with weakened immune systems might not be able to fight off the cancer cells. So, people whose cancer is thought to be growing or spreading are not allowed to donate blood.

The ACS also states that people who had leukemia or lymphoma as children are often allowed to donate blood after 10 years of being cancer-free.

The final decision about whether a person is allowed to donate is up to the doctor in charge of the donor center, the ACS reports.

If you have questions about whether you can donate, contact the blood collecting center in your community. The Red Cross operates 12 blood donation centers in Upstate New York, including the Liverpool Blood Donation Center outside of Syracuse.