Jan 09, 2020 2:00 PM

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, people often look for ways to help. One way to help is to donate blood or platelets. Patients diagnosed with cancer may need a blood transfusion for many different reasons. Sometimes cancer or cancer treatments can lower the amount of a person’s red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

What is our blood made of?

Your blood has three main parts:

  • Red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. When these cells are low, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This means you may feel tired and short of breath.
  • White blood cells. White blood cells help your body fight infection. When these cells have a low count, it is easier for you to get sick.
  • Platelets. When you bleed, platelets help your blood clot so that the bleeding stops. This protects your body from losing too much blood. When you don’t have enough platelets, it can be hard for your body to stop bleeding.

Why do patients diagnosed with cancer need blood donations?

If a patient has a low count of red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets, it may be too risky for them to start cancer treatment. But getting a blood transfusion can help bring a patient’s blood counts up to a healthy amount so that treatment can start sooner. 

Patients who need surgery to remove tumors may need a blood transfusion during the surgery. One of the risks of surgery is losing too much blood. A blood transfusion can replace the loss of blood.

blood types

Do blood types matter?

There are different types of blood:

  • A+
  • A-
  • B+
  • B-
  • AB+
  • AB-
  • O+
  • O-

People who receive blood have to get the right type or their body will attack the blood. Sometimes blood banks don’t have enough of certain blood types. If you have a blood type the bank needs and you have donated before, the blood bank may contact you to see if you are willing to donate again.

O- blood type can be used in any transfusion. This means someone with O- blood can give their blood to anyone else with low risk to the receiver.

No matter the blood type, everyone is welcome to donate as long as they meet the requirements. Check with your local blood bank for their requirements.

If I want to donate blood, what should I know?

There are two common types of blood donations:

  • Whole blood. A whole-blood donor donates one pint of blood during their visit. They are usually at the donor center for about an hour, including registration, medical screening, donation, and recovery. Whole blood can be donated every 56 days.
  • Platelets. This type of donation separates the platelets from the other parts of a donor’s blood. Blood is drawn from one arm and goes through a machine that separates the platelets. The rest of the blood goes back to the donor through the other arm. A platelet donation takes longer than whole blood donation. It may take 80 to 120 minutes. Platelets can be donated every seven days, up to 24 times a year.

ARUP Blood Services provides all the blood products given to patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute. Visit their website to find a donation center near you.

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