Can Cancer Survivors Donate Blood?


Whether a cancer survivor is eligible to donate blood depends on many factors. Policies can vary from one blood donation center to the next and from country to country.

The main considerations are as follows:

  • Potential for harm to the donor. Most blood donation centers will require cancer survivors to obtain a letter from their oncologist saying that it is ok for them to give blood.

  • Blood quality. No blood donations are accepted from patients with a history of hematological cancer (i.e., where the cancer affected blood cells), such as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's Disease, Mycosis Fungoides, Kaposi's Sarcoma, Multiple Myeloma, and Polycythemia Rubra Vera. Blood may also be refused from cancer patients who underwent a splenectomy or certain types of transplants, or who had cancer affecting any organ in the blood production system (e.g., liver cancer).

  • Drug pharmacokinetics. No blood donations are accepted from patients undergoing active treatment. Most centers will require that at least 5 years have passed since the end of therapy, and some will require at least 10 years. A key issue is the type of chemotherapy, and whether enough time has passed for residual amounts to drop significantly below therapeutic levels. (The last thing the blood bank wants is for the blood donation to induce neutropenia or anemia in the blood recipient.) Generally, for non-teratogenic drugs, 5 plasma-elimination half lives (i.e., approximately 3% of therapeutic levels) is considered safe. For teratogenic drugs, 28 plasma-elimination half lives is considered safe. But it can also depend on the original dose; an additional safety margin may be required for survivors who underwent high dose chemotherapy. It also depends on the type of chemotherapy; cisplatin and other heavy metals, for example, can persist in serum for decades.

Beyond the FDA's minimal requirements, each blood donation center sets its own guidelines.

The current Red Cross blood donor eligibility guidelines require that at least five years have passed since the end of treatment without any relapses. Exceptions include leukemia and lymphoma, for which donations are never accepted, and low risk cancers (e.g., squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin), for which a five year waiting period is not required.

(Prior to July 21, 2003, the Red Cross's guidelines prohibited blood donations from any cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, hormone therapy or immunotherapy, even if they were more than five years past the end of treatment. Many blood donation centers continue to adhere to the former guidelines. For example, Dana Farber will not accept blood donations from cancer survivors, regardless of the treatment methodology and the number of years since the end of treatment.)

In the UK, blood donations are not accepted from cancer survivors, no matter how many years have passed since the end of treatment.

As an alternative to donating blood yourself, you can always encourage friends and family to donate blood on your behalf. Such appeals are especially effective from current cancer patients. Many of your acquaintances want to do something to help. Even if you aren't going to need blood yourself, their donations will help others.

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