7 Bone Marrow Donation Myths Demystified

Donating bone marrow has become a hot topic, with “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts undergoing a bone marrow transplant last week. (Can you believe how brave she was to have her surgery on-camera?!) Though most of us have a vague idea of what the process involves, it’s still a little mysterious. But, no worries we've got the deets on what's fact vs. fiction.

Myth: You have to have surgery to donate bone marrow.

3 out of 4 donations are made via PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) which doesn’t require surgery. The PBSC donation is done by “apheresis,” a process vaguely similar to donating blood.  

Myth: Donating is painful and it takes a long time to recover.

PBSC donors may experience very minimal discomfort from short-lived effects and are usually back to their normal routine in a day or two. However, those donating marrow (which involves surgery) receive anesthesia, causing them to be unconscious and feel no pain during donation. Marrow donors usually feel some soreness in their lower back for a week or two afterward. Most are back to their normal routine in two to seven days.

Myth: Donating is dangerous.

Though no medical procedure is without risk, there are almost never any long-term side effects to donating. All donors are prescreened to make sure that the procedure is safe for them.

Myth: Donating weakens the donor.

Only five percent or less of a donor’s marrow is needed to save the patient’s life, which means that the donor’s immune system stays strong. The cells replace themselves within four to six weeks.

Myth: The doctor removes pieces of bone during bone marrow donation.

No pieces of bone are taken. Only the liquid marrow inside the pelvic bone is needed to save the patient’s life.

Myth: Donors have to pay to donate.

Donors never pay to donate. The National Marrow Donor program reimburses patients for travel and other costs.

Myth: Most patients receive their marrow from a family member.

70 percent of patients receive their marrow from a stranger.

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