Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukaemia, myeloma or lymphoma.

It’s the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, yet less than half the population are aware of blood cancer issues.

There is no single cure for blood cancers. But, a blood stem cell donation from a genetically similar person can often be the best, and last, option for treatment.

In the UK, about 70% of people living with a blood cancer will not find a matching bone marrow or blood stem cell donor in their family. Instead, they rely on the altruism of an unrelated donor for a second chance of life.

Patients from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds continue to have difficulties finding a suitable match due to a disproportionate lack of available donors.

DKMS, a blood cancer charity, exists to recruit potential blood stem cell donors and so far over 7.4 million people have registered worldwide, with over 300,000 of donors based in the UK.

Despite these impressive figures, at any one time there are around 2,000 people in the UK waiting for a blood stem cell donation and over 37,000 people waiting worldwide.

1. I already give blood can I register as a blood stem cell donor too?

You can certainly register as a blood stem cell donor if you already donate blood. However, you should be aware that if you are identified as a match for someone living with a blood cancer and go on to donate blood stem cells, you would be temporarily blocked from giving blood for a period of time.

2. How do I donate my blood stem cells?

If you’re identified as a match, there are two ways in which you might be asked to donate:

  • In 90% of cases, donation is through a peripheral blood stem cell collection, where blood is taken from the donor’s arm. A machine extracts the blood stem cells before returning the donor’s blood to them, through their other arm. This procedure takes approximately 4-6 hours.
  • 10% of donations are through a bone marrow donation, which is extracted from the pelvic bone not through the spine, which is a common misconception.

3. Why do you only register people between aged between 17-55?

People aged 17 can pre-register through DKMS (although you won’t go live on the register until you turn 18). Potential donors can register with us up until the age of 55 and all donors will stay on the register until their 61st birthday.

The upper age limit is in place in order to provide the best possible treatment for the patients. Younger people are more likely to be chosen as donors and are less likely to have health issues that could cause complications with donating. With age also comes an increase in risk from anaesthesia (which is used for the bone marrow donation procedure) and the wellbeing of both the donor and patient is the most important thing.

4. Does ethnicity affect finding a match?

Patients are more likely to find a match from someone from their own ethnicity, because people from the same ethnic group are more likely to have the same tissue type, which is matched using human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing.

With more than 16,000 known HLA characteristics that can occur in million of combinations - finding a match is already extremely rare. Patients of more diverse ethnic backgrounds also tend to have more diverse HLA types, making it even more difficult to find a match.

To be considered a match the patient and donor must have at least eight HLA characteristics in common but ideally should have 12.

5. I’m already registered with another organisation, can I register with DKMS too?

If you have already registered as a potential blood stem cell donor through another organisation then you don’t need to register again with DKMS. Your details will go on to the UK Aligned Stem Cell Registry.

There is a 4-5% chance that you’ll be a matching donor for someone in need within the first ten years of being on the register.

You could become a potential lifesaver. Please register today for your home swab kit and go on standby to save a life.