If you are on the bone marrow register and identified as a possible match for someone, you may be asked to provide a blood sample. This will enable further checks on your tissue type to be made.
If your tissue type matches the patient who requires bone marrow, you may be selected to donate. You will have a full medical examination and receive counselling about the procedure.
There are two ways of donating bone marrow. The first and most widely used method is known as a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. The second method involves donation of the bone marrow itself.
Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation
Peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC) is a procedure that allows you to donate stem cells from your circulating blood without having to directly donate any bone marrow.
Every day for four days before the PBSC donation takes place, you will receive an injection of a medication called Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). This will increase the number of stem cells in your blood. Stem cells produce a variety of blood cells, including red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body.
Common side effects of G-CSF include:
Less common side effects include:
These side effects are usually mild and should pass once treatment with G-CSF has stopped.
On the fifth day, you will be connected to a special machine that separates the stem cells from your blood. These are collected into a pack for use.
The advantage of having a PBSC is that you do not need to have a general anaesthetic, and you will not have to stay in hospital overnight. It takes around four or five hours to donate this way. Occasionally, a donation is also needed on the sixth day to top up the total number of stem cells.
Bone marrow donation
In bone marrow donation, a syringe is used to remove bone marrow from your hip bones. Although this is not a surgical operation, it is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic to stop you feeling any pain during the procedure.
After donating bone marrow, you may experience some discomfort at the site where the needle was inserted into your hip, but this should gradually settle. You will usually need to stay in hospital for up to 48 hours to make sure you have recovered fully from the general anaesthetic.
After the donation procedure, it usually takes about five days to fully recover from the effects of the anaesthetic. It is recommended you stay at home and rest during this period.
PBSC and traditional bone marrow donation are both extremely safe procedures that have a small level of associated risk.
Around one in every 100 people will experience a complication during or following PBSC and bone marrow donation. For example, an infection close to where the needle was inserted to collect stem cells. In rare cases, a person may experience a serious allergic reaction to the general anaesthetic used during a bone marrow donation.