Common Questions

Questions about joining

What is the eligibility criteria to join the bone marrow registry?

You need to be aged between 18-45. This is because younger stem cells have a higher success rate when transplanted. Click on the link to find out more eligibility criteria.

How do I join the registry?

Simply call the Red cross on 13 14 95 to book an appointment at your nearest blood collection centre. You need to tell them that you wish to join the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry so they can take the small sample of blood. It will be later tested to find out what its "unique code" is to be added to the database/registry so it can be searched and hopefully matched with the patient's "unique code". Visit www.donateblood.com.au to find out where your nearest centre is. 

I am already a blood donor, does this mean I am on the bone marrow registry?

It's great that you are already a blood donor and you may also be donating other blood products like plasma, however this does not mean that you are automatically added to the bone marrow registry. You need to specifically request to join the registry, you will need to let the Red Cross know of your wishes when you book/go in for your appointment. 

Does it cost me anything to join?

There is no cost to join the registry.

Questions about donating your stem cells

How often will I be a match?

Only 1 in 1500 Australians will get called to donate their bone marrow/stem cells in any given year. In fact some people go their whole life without getting the call. So don't be expecting calls every few months to donate your bone marrow! 

Does it hurt to donate my stem cells?

If you are someone's match, the most common way to donate your stem cells is through PBSC donation which is a non-surgical procedure. You may experience some discomfort while the needles are in your arms, but there is no pain associated with the procedure itself. You can often watch TV or a DVD during the procedure whilst reclined in the chair or relaxing in a bed! Any other short term symptoms that you may experience are mild (such as headaches and flu like symptoms) and can be relieved with paracetamol such as Panadol. They usually disappear after collection. Find out more at PBSC donation.

If you are in the small percentage of people who need to do a bone marrow donation, you will be placed under general anaesthetic so you will not feel any pain during the procedure. You may feel a dull ache at the base of your back near your pelvic bone afterwards and this can be relieved with paracetamol like Panadol. These aches will fade away usually within a few days. 

How long do the procedures take?

If you are donating through PBSC donation (most common method), the procedure takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to perform.

If you are donating through a bone marrow donation (less common method), the procedure can take about 1 to 2 hours to complete, this can either be done as a day-stay or as an overnight stay.

Both methods require some of your time beforehand to fill in forms and questionnaires and to have some routine tests done. 

How long does it take to recover?

If you are doing a PBSC donation (most common method), you can usually return straight to work and continue on with normal activities.

If you are doing a bone marrow donation (less common method), you can usually go home the same day or you may need to stay overnight. The aches that you may feel afterwards can take a few days to disappear. 

Are there any risks to my health?

Your health is very important and your medical team will never put you through a procedure if they believe you are not healthy or fit enough, all the necessary checks are done beforehand. If you are doing a bone marrow donation (less common method), there are the usual risks associated with being place under general anaesthetic or having surgery. The chances of a serious complication is very low, you may feel discomfort or some local pain for a few days which can be relieved with a paracetamol like Panadol.

The G-CSF injections used in PBSC donation are usually well tolerated, there are no long term side effects but you may feel some flu-like symptoms whilst taking the injections for a few days. Doctors will never risk one person's health in order to help someone else, they care about the health of both the donor and the patient. For more details on this click the link below to visit the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry website. 

Do I lose my stem cells forever once they have been taken?

If you are doing a PBSC donation (most common method), then it is your excess stem cells that are taken, so you do not lose any part of you.

If you are doing a bone marrow donation (less common method), then your body will replenish the bone marrow usually within 4 weeks

Does it cost me anything to donate my stem cells? 

There is no cost to you as the donor. Only your time and commitment. 

Am I obligated to donate once I receive that first call?

Although we know that almost everyone would be happy and proud at the chance to save another person's life, it is important to know that when you receive that first call saying you may be someone’s match you still have the opportunity to pull out. You are obligated to donate further along the process when the patient receives the high dose chemotherapy. From this point there is “no going back”, because if someone pulled out at that point, the patient would die without the stem cells to re-build their immune system. Do not take your decision to join the registry lightly. You need to be prepared to show a level of commitment when you join as it is not fair for patients to receive false hope. 

For more details regarding donating your stem cells visit the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry page

Blood types

Other questions

Does my blood type need to match?

No your blood type does not need to match the patient's blood type. It is the other markers in the blood that are more important for matching, in some cases the patient will even have a new blood type after transplant!

Why do the stem cells/bone marrow need to be matched?

There are lots of different markers in the blood that will determine if someone is your match or not. Your ethnic background plays an important role when looking at all of these markers and you are more likely to match someone who has a similar ethnicity to you.  Your blood can be what’s called “tissue typed” to find out what its unique “code” is and this is what is compared to the patient’s “tissue type” or "code” to see if there is a match. If the cells are not matched then they will attack the patient's body because they detect the organs as foreign and the patient would die - transplants are never done unless the right match has been found. 

For more details and common questions, you can visit the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry FAQ page or call the Red Cross on 13 14 95 to discuss any other queries you may have

Interesting Facts

- Only 1 in 1500 Australians on the registry will get called in any given year to be a patient's life-saving match.

- 1 person every 46 minutes is diagnosed with a blood cancer in Australia.

- Only 30% of patients searching for their life-saving match will find it within their family.

- 80.8% of people on the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry are of North Caucasian background, the rest are split up into tiny percentages of the different ethnic groups. This disadvantages anyone who has some type of ethnic background if they ever need a match. Many ethnic groups have less than 1% representation on the bone marrow registry but with your help we can change this!

If a patient receives a match from someone who has a different blood type to them, then once the body has accepted the stem cells, the patient's blood type will change. It will be the same as their donor's blood type.

- Expectant mothers can donate the stem cells from their baby's umbilical cord to also become a patient's life saving match. Unfortunately these are commonly thrown out. See expectant mothers and cord blood donation for more information.

- All the individual registries in each separate country are inter-connected world wide so a Doctor can search the whole world for their patient's match.