Step 1: Know It
70% of people who need a bone marrow transplant rely on a complete stranger for a donation. Beyond that, black people and other people of color have a much harder time finding a donor match.1
What is a bone marrow transplant?
A bone marrow transplant is a lifesaving treatment for people with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell, and other life-threatening diseases. First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor's healthy blood-forming cells are given directly into the patient's bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. For a patient's body to accept these healthy cells, the patient needs a donor who is a close match. About 70% percent of patients do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated donor.
What happens once I swab (aka register)?
When you join the Be The Match Registry, you make a commitment to:
- Be listed on the registry until your 61st birthday, unless you ask to be removed.
- Consider donating to any searching patient who matches you.
- Update Be The Match if your address changes, you have significant health changes, or you change your mind about being a donor.
- Respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match for a patient.
Some other things to remember:
- You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary.
- If you decide you do not want to donate, let us know right away. That way we can continue the search for another donor without dangerous delays for the patient.
How old do I have to be to register?
It is recommended that you are between 18 and 44 years old to register, but the most needed donors are between 18 to 24 years old. An individual must be 18 to donate because donation is a medical (for PBSC donation) or surgical (for marrow donation) procedure, and the person undergoing the procedure must legally be able to give informed consent. A guardian or parent cannot sign a release or give consent for someone under age 18, because unrelated marrow donation is a voluntary procedure and is not directly beneficial or lifesaving.
What are the chances I'll be a match?
On average, one in every 430 members of Be The Match Registry in the United States will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient. You cannot predict the likelihood that an individual member will donate because there is so much diversity in the population. However, if you are between the ages of 18 and 44, you are 10 times more likely to be called as a marrow donor than other members of the Be The Match Registry. That's because research shows cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants. Every person who joins the registry gives patients hope, and new patient searches begin every day. You may never be identified as a match for someone, or you might be one of a number of potential matches. But you may also be the only one on the registry who can save a particular patient's life.
What happens if I agree to donate?
Donors may be asked to donate in one of two ways: 1. Peripheral blood cell (PBSC) donation involves removing a donor's blood through a sterile needle in one arm. The blood is passed through a machine that separates out the cells used in transplants. The remaining blood is returned through the other arm. 2. Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of the donor's pelvic bones using special hollow needles. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure, so donors feel no needle injections and no pain during marrow donation. Most donors feel some pain in their lower back for a few days afterwards.
Is it painful to donate?
Peripheral blood cell donation involves no pain. Bone marrow donors receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the procedure. Most bone marrow donors feel some soreness in their lower back for a few days following donation.
How long does it take to donate?
Becoming a donor requires a time commitment. Before you donate, there are several steps to make sure you are the best donor for the patient. These steps include an information session to provide resources to help you make your decision, as well as appointments for additional blood tests and a physical exam. The time needed for the actual donation depends on the donation procedure. On average, the entire process can take 30 to 40 hours, including travel time, over four to six weeks. Marrow and PBSC donation require about the same total time commitment.
Does donating hurt?
There are rarely any long-term side effects. Be The Match carefully prescreens all donors to ensure they are healthy and the procedure is safe for them. They also provide support and information every step of the way. Because only five percent or less of a donor's marrow is needed to save the patient's life, the donor's immune system stays strong and the cells replace themselves within four to six weeks.
Does race or ethnicity affect matching?
Racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Today, there simply aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a lifesaving match. Members of these backgrounds are especially needed:
- Black or African American
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Asian, including South Asian
- Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
- Hispanic or Latino
- Multiple race
Can I get tested to match a specific patient or family member?
When you join the Be The Match Registry, you make a commitment to consider donating to any searching patient who matches you. As a volunteer, you are never under any legal obligation to donate and your decision is always respected. However, because a late decision not to donate can be life-threatening to a patient, please think seriously about your commitment before deciding to join our registry.
You can request a copy of your own testing results after you join the Be The Match Registry. However, if you want to be tested only for a specific patient, you will need to have your testing done privately. You can contact the patient's transplant center or transplant doctor for more information.
Can everyone donate bone marrow?
You CAN join the registry if you:
- Are between the ages of 18 and 44
- Are willing to donate to any person in need when you’re called
- Are in good general health
- Are on birth control
- Have well-controlled asthma, high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or epilepsy (no seizures within the last 12 months)
- Take anti-depressants, ADD/ADHD meds, or anti-anxiety meds
- Take allergy medicine
- Have scoliosis without any pins or rods in your back
- Are anemic and cannot donate blood regularly
You should NOT join the registry if you:
- Are ages 45 or over
- Are unwilling to donate to anyone in need when you are called
- Have severe, chronic medical conditions that prevent you from normal activities
- Have had blood cancer (easily removed skin cancer may be ok) or received a bone-marrow transplant
- Have an auto-immune disorder (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.)
- Are HIV positive or have any other communicable disease like hepatitis
- Have severe back issues or have pins and rods in your back or hips from surgery
- Have blood-clotting disorders
We <3 Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson believes good health is as the heart of human progress and is therefore committed to positively impacting the trajectory of health for humanity. It’s estimated that Johnson and Johnson touches 1 billion lives each day through its products and services. Johnson and Johnson also partners with great organizations to advance human health and social causes. Johnson & Johnson has a special partnership with DoSomething.org and it’s Give A Spit About Cancer campaign to ensure more people, especially people of color, have access to a lifesaving match.
To increase Johnson and Johnson’s support of Give A Spit About Cancer, please download their free Donate A Photo app. For each photo donated to DoSomething.org, Johnson and Johnson will make a $1 dollar donation. To learn more about Johnson & Johnson and Donate A Photo, check them out here.
The most successful transplants come from people ages 18 to 44. Hold on: that’s you! Ready to step up? Let’s give a spit...about cancer.2
By simply swabbing your cheek, you and your friends can join the bone marrow registry and have the chance to be selected as a donor match for a cancer patient in need. Enter three friends’ numbers below, and we’ll send you and them a short text-message guide on how to join the registry. You’ll enter to win a $3,000 scholarship!
"2013 Be The Match Report to the Community", Be the Match Foundation, 2013.
"2013 Be The Match Report to the Community", Be the Match Foundation, 2013.
Step 2: Do It
Share the Guide!
Enter three friends’ numbers below. We’ll text you all everything you need to know about joining the registry. And once you share, you'll be entered to win a $3,000 scholarship.