Basics – What is Bone Marrow?
17 September of every year is observed as World Marrow Donor Day. This is an excellent time to talk about bone marrow donation, transplantation, and the world of myths that surround them.
Bone marrow is a soft material with a spongy texture that is found in between your large bones. It functions to create more than 200 billion new blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells every day. However, in some conditions, including cancer of any kind, this process may not be efficient. This is where the option of a bone marrow transplant procedure comes into play to save the affected person’s life. While the process of a bone marrow transplant may appear scary and intimidating to those unaware of it, it is actually easy and painless, like donating blood.
What is a Bone Marrow Transplant?
A bone marrow transplant involves infusing healthy stem cells into the body to replace bone marrow that is not producing enough healthy blood cells. This procedure is only done after performing fitness and cross-match tests on both donor and recipient and is also called a stem cell transplant or hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Stem cells to be transplanted are derived from three sources—from bone marrow found between the large bones, from the bloodstream, and from the umbilical cord of babies. The source of bone marrow to be transplanted depends on the purpose of the transplant.
Why is a Bone Marrow Transplant Done?
Bone marrow transplant procedures are typically life-saving procedures for those diagnosed with blood cancer (leukemia), lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and a few other types of cancer. Stem cells from a healthy person’s bone marrow are extracted and transplanted into the blood stream of an ill person to save his life and increase his chances of survival.
Pregnant women are also advised to store their stem cells derived from the placenta and umbilical cord after delivery to be of help to their babies or someone else if needed.
Myths Debunked: Bone Marrow Transplant
Myth 1 – Bone Marrow Donation is very painful.
Fact – Bone marrow donation isn’t painful at all.
This is a common myth amongst many that stem cell donation is a painful procedure, while in reality, it is untrue. TV shows and misguided literature available over the internet have planted this misconception of stem cell donation being really scary and dramatic. However, it is true that there might be a slight discomfort after stem cell donation, but that too varies from one person to another.
Stem cell donation only causes mild to moderate side effects that typically last for a few hours to days and disappear on their own without much trouble. The side effects may include fatigue, headache, back pain, or bruising. The noble cause behind stem cell donation drives the donors, with many of them strongly advocating donation again next time. They believe a slight discomfort is worth it if it can save someone’s life.
Myth 2 – Bone Marrow donation is dangerous and life-threatening.
Fact – Bone marrow donation does not have life-consuming risks.
Yet another misconception associated with stem cell donation is that it is dangerous and can cause life-altering consequences. However, on the flip side, the reality is that there are very few risks associated with blood stem cell donation and none of them are life-threatening in nature. The elaborate donor screening procedure and the extensive tests conducted during the matching process ensure that the donor and recipient are both safe after the procedure.
There are rarely any side effects after the stem cell donation procedure. The donor’s immune system is so strong that usually the stem cells replenish themselves on their own within 4 to 6 weeks. Another truth is that only 1 to 5% of a healthy person’s bone marrow is required to be transplanted, which hardly affects their body and the immune system replenishes the same very soon.
Myth 3 – Bone marrow donation is a lengthy process and takes a long time.
Fact – It takes a total of less than 30 hours and not in one go.
It is a huge myth that signing up for stem cell donation is a long process and that the entire thing takes forever to complete. However, in reality, it is just the opposite. The online registration process for stem cell donation takes only about 10–15 minutes.
Post registration, if you’re screened and are called to donate, the entire time commitment for the whole process doesn’t exceed 30 hours. You don’t need to spend all 30 hours together in one go. This easily spreads out to a time span of four to six weeks that includes phone calls, pre-screening, appointments, and the actual donation. Having said that, there’s no greater cause than saving someone’s life, even if it requires a little time commitment.
Keeping everyone’s personal and work commitments in mind, the entire donation process is spanned and curated in a way that a single sitting doesn’t take too long.
Myth 4 – Stem cell donation is expensive and costs a bomb to the donor.
Fact – The donor isn’t charged anything for stem cell donation.
Many people think that donating stem cells involves a huge cost to the donor and will drain their hard-earned savings. However, in reality, most healthcare units offer convenient bone marrow transplant packages that include screening, matching, and donation at no cost. None of such charges is levied on the donor, and it is a safe and no-cost-levied procedure for them. All medical costs for the procedure are borne by the recipient.
Myth 5 – Donating bone marrow or stem cells is a man’s job, and women can’t do it.
Fact – Anyone between the age group of 18–40 years and meeting the medical criteria is free to donate, irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
There are proper medical guidelines in place to have the best outcome for both donor and recipient after the stem cell donation process is carried out. The medical guidelines don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, race, ethnic status, sexual identity, and more. There is a certain age bracket decided by the medical committee that protects the safety of both patient and donor. Anyone from the LGBTQ+ community can come forward for stem cell donation if they fall within the medical guidelines. Anyone trying to get pregnant or already pregnant is deferred from the stem cell donation procedure to avoid any harmful effects of drugs on the baby.
Signing up to become a stem cell or bone marrow donor is a massive commitment and the noblest one. Even after thorough medical tests and cross-match screening, no one can really predict the outcome of the donation for the recipient, but a sincere and earnest effort for donation can possibly save someone’s life. We hope the above bone marrow donation myths helped you declutter your mind and you’re ready to take the plunge to be a bone marrow transplant donor.