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 cancer care team 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 suggests 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:
Different 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 year ago and the cancer has not come back. (The time can vary at different blood centers.)
Potential donors whose cancers had not spread (in situ cancers) and required no further treatment besides surgery to remove the cancer may need to wait only until they’ve healed from their surgery and feel well again to donate blood.
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.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Red Cross. Donating Blood: Eligibility Guidelines. Accessed at www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements on June 20, 2016.
American Red Cross. Eligibility Criteria: Alphabetical. Accessed at www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-alphabetical-listing on June 20, 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood Safety. Accessed at www.cdc.gov/bloodsafety/bbp/bacterial-contamination-of-platelets.html on June 20, 2016.
Eder A. Blood Donors with a history of cancer. In: Eder A, Bianco C, eds. Screening Blood Donors: Science, Reason, and the Blood Donation Questionnaire. Bethesda, Md: AABB Press: 2007:77-92.
Morris-Stiff G, Steel A, Savage P, et al. Transmission of donor melanoma to multiple organ transplant recipients. Am J Transplant. 2004;4:444-446.
Yang H, Lee J, Seed CR, Keller AJ. Can blood transfusion transmit cancer? A literature review. Transfus Med Rev. 2010;24(3):235-243.
Last Revised: June 20, 2016