Blood Transfusion and Donation

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Blood donation by cancer survivors

Some people who have had cancer are not allowed to donate blood for a certain length of time after treatment. This is done partly to protect the donor, but it may also add an extra margin of safety for the person who receives the blood. If you aren’t sure if you are well enough to give blood, talk with your doctor before you try to donate.

While cancer has very rarely been transmitted through transplants of solid organs such as kidneys, there have been no reports of cancer transmission by blood transfusion. To check this, a group of researchers looked back in time at people who had received blood from donors who had developed cancer within 5 years of giving the blood. They found no increased cancer risk in those who got blood from those who were found to have cancer soon after donating.

This would suggest that the chance of getting cancer from a blood donor with cancer is extremely small, if it exists at all. Even if cancer cells were present in donated blood, the immune system of the person getting the blood would destroy the cells. A possible exception might be in transfusion recipients with weakened immune systems, who might not be able to fight off the cancer cells. Because of this slight possibility, people whose cancer is thought to be growing or spreading are not allowed to donate blood for other people.

You cannot donate blood for other people if:

  • You are being treated for cancer
  • Your cancer is spreading or has come back
  • You have had leukemia or lymphoma as an adult
  • You have ever had Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • blood collection centers may have slightly different standards for allowing cancer survivors to donate. For example, the American Red Cross allows most people who have had cancer to donate if the cancer was treated at least 1 to 5 years ago and the cancer has not come back. (The time can vary at different blood centers.)
  • donors whose cancers had not spread and required no further treatment besides surgery to remove the cancer have little chance of cancer cells getting into the bloodstream. These low-risk donors may need to wait only until they’ve healed from their surgery and feel well again to donate blood.

People who had leukemia or lymphoma as children are often allowed to donate after 10 years of being cancer-free.

The final decision about whether a person is allowed to donate is up to the doctor in charge of the donor center. If you have questions about whether you can donate, please contact the blood collecting center in your community.

Some cancer survivors may find these precautions frustrating. They may be eager to donate blood to help others with cancer, just as they were helped by transfusions during their treatment. Everyone should remember, though, that the most important goal in blood banking is to ensure the safety of the blood supply and to protect those who get the transfusions.

Many cancer survivors also want to help others by donating their body organs after death. For more on this, see our document called Can I Donate My Organs If I’ve Had Cancer?


Last Medical Review: 10/07/2013
Last Revised: 10/07/2013