Alberta Cancer Foundation

How Cancer Survivors Can Be Blood, Organ and Tissue Donors

Dr. Mindy Goldman illustration by Jennifer Madole.

 

Cancer patients can spend days, weeks and even years inside of hospital rooms, often on the receiving end of life-saving blood donations, plasma transfusions or stem-cell transplants. Many cancer patients and survivors know the importance of blood and organ donation first-hand and many are keen to give back. Four years ago, cancer survivors were unable to donate blood, but Dr. Mindy Goldman, medical director of donor and clinical services at Canadian Blood Services, explains how to donate now, following changes implemented in 2016.

Q: Can a cancer patient or survivor be a blood or organ donor?

Most cancer survivors can donate blood five years after they end curative treatment, as long as they meet all other eligibility criteria. For organs and tissues, anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age or medical condition. Even individuals with serious illnesses may sometimes be donors. All potential donors are evaluated on an individual, medical, case-by-case basis. Our message to Canadians is to not rule yourself out!

Q: Why is there a waiting period to donate blood?

The five-year waiting period for blood donation is a precaution. Until 2016, Canadian Blood Services had a permanent deferral from blood donation for most types of cancer. We applied to Health Canada for the reduction to five years following a large Scandinavian study that provided convincing evidence that cancer cannot be transfusion transmitted [passing blood from one person to another]. This has resulted in a significant increase of eligible donors and shows the importance of re-evaluating criteria.

We re-evaluate eligibility criteria as new data becomes available, and we are considering a future submission to Health Canada to reduce the waiting period to 12 months. The latest updates to eligibility criteria can be found at blood.ca.

Q: Are there any restrictions on being a donor based on what kind of cancer someone has had?

Unfortunately, survivors of blood cancers and melanoma are currently ineligible to donate, and they still have a lifetime deferral, which is precautionary.

Living organ donations are assessed in consultation with a physician and based on recipient consent on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, for deceased donation, each case is assessed on a case-by-case basis and reviewed at the time of death. Based on a range of factors, the deceased donor’s organs and tissues (such as corneas or skin) may be eligible for use.

Q: What are the specific concerns for organ or tissue donation?

There are many factors for organ and tissue donation, but some of the main concerns include the donor’s remission status, the type of cancer the donor had, and the health of their organs – which can be negatively impacted by cancer treatment. Generally speaking, cancer survivors are not eligible to be living donors, but the medical team may determine it’s safe to proceed with donation depending on these factors.

Importantly, to ensure organ donation is considered at time of death, we ask all Canadians to talk to their families about their wish to become an organ donor, and to register their wishes in their province.

Learn more at blood.ca

A Life-saving Gift

According to Canada Blood Services, a single deceased organ donor has the potential to provide as many as eight organs for transplant. Currently, there are approximately 4,400 Canadians waiting to receive a life-saving organ or tissue transplant.

Learn how you can register to become an organ or tissue donor at organtissuedonation.ca