Can cancer survivors give blood

Breast Cancer Survivors Can Donate Blood

I have been under the completely mistaken assumption that breast cancer survivors can’t be blood donors. Somewhere, I heard that if you had been diagnosed with cancer and then also had chemotherapy, you were not eligible to give blood.

I think about giving blood often and urge family members and friends to give. I have often wished that I could contribute to blood banks and drives, but truly believed that having had breast cancer eliminated me. Yesterday I decided I really didn’t know for sure and that I should look into it. On its list of eligibility requirements for blood donation, the American Red Cross states that people diagnosed with cancer can donate if the cancer was treated successfully and at least 12 months have passed with no cancer recurrence. This is a change from their previous requirement, which stated that donors must be five years cancer-free. Also, anyone who was diagnosed with a blood cancer (like leukemia or lymphoma) or Hodgkin’s disease is not eligible.

I have had one blood transfusion. A few nights after my surgery for DIEP flap breast reconstruction, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning with a terrific headache. Along with the headache, I was hearing voices. Since I was still in the hospital having being monitored after the extensive surgery, I immediately called the nurse. She reassured me I would be okay and tried to make me comfortable. That morning I was informed by the doctor that my blood pressure was low and it indicated I needed a blood transfusion. I had been advised prior to DIEP flap surgery that this could result from the extensive microsurgery and blood loss, so I was not concerned. When I felt transformed and energetic after the transfusion, I was grateful to have had it.

Imagine if my blood type hadn’t been available. I think about that now and then when I see ads for blood drives, and I often have wished I could donate blood since I have a common type. But a nurse or doctor at some point told me I was ineligible because of the breast cancer diagnosis, and I have lived with that assumption for several years.

This morning I contacted the Red Cross just to confirm and clarify what I read on their website. They told me that indeed, breast cancer survivors are among those who are eligible to give blood, even if the treatment included chemotherapy. This changes everything.

I am going to look into where I can give in the next month, and I will be donating blood.

Become a Donor

Can I donate blood?

Donating blood is easy and our blood supply relies exclusively on the generosity of volunteer blood donors. There is no substitute for human blood. Most people qualify as a volunteer donor, even if they are taking medications. Review the eligibility criteria below and see if you can be a lifesaver too.

Age Matters

You may donate if you are at least 17 years old (16 years old with written consent from parent or legal guardian), weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health.

  • Donors age 16-18 are also subject to additional height/weight restrictions.
  • Donors age 76 and older can continue to donate blood if they meet all eligibility criteria and present a physician’s letter allowing them to donate, once at the first donation after reaching their 76th birthday. In the absence of a letter from their physician, they must be cleared by an NYBC medical director at each donation.

16 Year Old Parental/Guardian’s Permission Form

New York New Jersey Pennsylvania

Common Reasons For Donor Ineligibility

Read below for some of the temporary or permanent reasons you may not be eligible to donate blood. Some medications or medical conditions can also impact your donation eligibility.

URGENT REQUEST: Please do not give blood just to find out your HIV (AIDS virus) test results. If you need information on where to go for confidential HIV testing, please call your local health department.

Temporary Reasons

Condition Length of time before you can give blood
Not feeling well for any reason until symptoms are over
Cold, sore throat, respiratory infection, flu until 3 days after symptoms are over
Travel to an area of the world where malaria is a problem 12 months after return
Certain cases of heart disease contact us for medical eligibility at 1-800-688-0900
Ears, nose or skin piercing 12 months after procedure unless done under sterile conditions

Donors who receive tattoos in New York State are deferred from donating for 12 months unless it was applied in New Jersey at a licensed tattoo parlor, in which case you can donate immediately. You can usually donate immediately after receiving a tattoo in licensed parlors in most American states, however the following exclusions apply and will incur a 12 month deferral period: DC, Georgia, Idaho, MD, MA, NY, Penn, Vermont, Utah, Wyoming, US territories or any other country.

Blood transfusion 12 months after receiving blood
Pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage six weeks after end of pregnancy
Surgery, serious injury when healing is complete and feeling well
Syphilis, gonorrhea 12 months after treatment completed
Have had certain forms of cancer contact us regarding medical eligibility 1-800-688-0900
Have had sex with someone who has hepatitis B or hepatitis C 12 months after last occurence
You have had sex with anyone listed in the first three items under Permanent Reasons below 12 months after last occurence
You are a man who has had sex with another man 12 months after last occurence


Antibiotics (except antibiotics for acne) if taken
for infection
when treatment is complete
Accutane, Absorica, Proscar and Propecia 1 month after taking last dose
Avodart and Jalyn 6 months after taking last dose
Soriatane 3 years after taking last dose
Plavix*, Ticlid* 14 days after taking
Coumadin, Effient* and Brilinta* 7 days after taking

* These anti-platelet agents affect platelet function so people taking these drugs should not donateplatelets for the indicated time; however, you make a whole blood donation. Anyone taking Coumadin must wait 7 days after their last dose in order to be eligible for any type of donation.

Permanent Reasons

Please do not give blood if you:

  • Have used illegal drugs with a needle, even once

  • Have ever had a positive test for HIV (AIDS virus)

  • Are a man or woman who has had sex for money or drugs any time since 1977

  • Are a hemophiliac

  • Had viral hepatitis B or hepatitis C

  • Had certain forms of cancer (contact us regarding medical eligibility at 800.688.0900)

  • Had babesiosis or Chagas disease

  • Have taken Tegison for psoriasis

  • Have vCJD and/or a blood relative who had CJD

Please Note:

  • If you have diabetes or are on medications other than those noted above, you may still be eligible to donate blood. Call us to find out: 800.688.0900.

  • If you have traveled outside the United States, you may be deferred depending on the country and the length of time spent there.

  • The reasons for not being eligible to donate blood may change at any time.

If you have any additional questions or concerns about donating blood, please contact us.

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Piercing (Ear or Body)
Unless performed at a facility on our approval list or at an established tattoo facility in the state of New Jersey, those who have received an ear or body piercing within the last 365 days are not eligible for (1) year.

Approved Facility List

Previous Donors
Whole Blood – Can be donated every 56 days, up to six (6) times per year. Platelets – Can be donated every 8 days, up to twenty-four (24) times per year. Plasma – Can be donated every 28 days. Automated Red Cell – Can be donated every 112 days.

Recent Pregnancy
Potential donors are eligible if six (6) or more weeks have elapsed since delivery (vaginal or C-section), they are no longer under a doctor’s care, and if a blood transfusion was not necessary.

Recent Surgery
Persons who have recently undergone surgery are eligible if they have completely recovered, are no longer under a doctor’s care for the condition, and a blood transfusion was not necessary. However, major surgical procedures may require longer deferral periods. Individual assessment by a screener is required.

Sexual History
Anyone who has taken drugs or money for sex, even once, is not eligible to donate. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that blood centers defer male donors who have had sexual contact with another man within the past 12 months.

Sexually Transmitted Disease
Those who have a sexually-transmitted disease, such as syphilis or gonorrhea, are deferred for one (1) year after completion of treatment. Persons who have had chlamydia are eligible if they have completed treatment and are no longer under a doctor’s care.

If you have had a Smallpox vaccination, you may not donate for 56 days following the vaccination date. In addition, those who have been exposed to someone who has had the vaccination must also wait 56 days.

If your tattoo was applied at a medical facility (eg Cosmetic Surgeon), tattoo was medically removed and have no open wounds, or the tattoo was applied at an established tattoo facility in the state of New Jersey, you are eligible to donate blood.

However, if you had your tattoo applied in a state other than the state of New Jersey, you are not eligible for (1) year from the date the tattoo was applied.

Potential donors are eligible if one (1) year or more has elapsed since the transfusion. If your own blood was used for your transfusion, you may be eligible sooner.

Travel outside the country requires individual evaluation for possible exposure to infectious diseases such as Mad Cow Disease (vCJD), Malaria, HIV/AIDS, ZIKA and/or Ebola.

Donors must weigh a minimum of 110 pounds.

Physical Illness
Individuals with symptoms of cold or flu, stomach virus, fever and/or sore throat are not eligible to donate blood until they are without symptoms.

Blood products like whole blood and platelets are lifesaving for cancer patients at Dana-Farber and elsewhere. It comes as no surprise, then, that many cancer survivors want to return the favor by donating at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, which collects blood products to benefit patients at both Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Blood Mobile

Survivors of solid tumor cancers are eligible to donate blood and platelets beginning one year after they stop taking medication for their cancer; however, survivors of blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and other blood disorders, are permanently deferred due to the nature of their diseases. The timeframe for solid tumor survivors has recently been reduced from five years, as there has never been a report of cancer spreading through blood transfusion. Blood donation does not pose an increased risk to an otherwise healthy cancer survivor one year after treatment has ended.

Some individuals with early stage, localized, solid tumor cancers who have not yet had chemotherapy or radiation, and who feel well, may also be able to donate blood products upon approval from their physician. All blood and platelet donors must also pass the Kraft Center’s vital sign screening, hemoglobin check, and medical questionnaire.

Those who are able to donate can make an appointment at the Kraft Center by calling 617-632-3206 or emailing [email protected] Individuals who are unable to donate for medical reasons can still get involved and help by sponsoring a blood drive with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Blood Mobile, the traveling extension of the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center; recruiting others to donate; or volunteering at the Kraft Center.

Thanks to William Savage, MD, PhD, medical director of the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, and Malissa Lichtenwalter, supervisor of donor recruitment, for providing the information used in this article.

New Eligibility Guidelines for Blood Donors with Previous Cancer Diagnoses

To coincide with American Red Cross recommendations, the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Program has redefined eligibility guidelines for donors who have had a history of previous cancer diagnoses.

New Eligibility Guidelines

  • Benign cancer or tumor: Acceptable to donate
  • Basal cell carcinoma: Deferred for four weeks after date of surgical removal
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (skin, cervix, or oral cavity): Deferred for four weeks after date of surgical removal
  • Malignant cancer (e.g., breast, prostate, or colon cancer and melanoma): Deferred for one year after treatment is completed
  • Leukemia, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and myeloma: Ineligible to donate permanently
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma: Ineligible to donate permanently

“Worldwide, there has never been a reported case of any type of cancer being transferred via blood transfusion,” says Justin Kreuter, M.D., Medical Director of Mayo’s Blood Donor Program. “So, we recently reviewed our program’s cancer-deferral policy and updated our practice to be in line with the American Red Cross.”

The American Red Cross supplies approximately 40% of the donated blood in the United States, which it sells to hospitals and regional suppliers. Community-based blood centers supply 50%, and only 6% of blood and blood products are collected directly by hospitals.

Are These Changes Safe?
Approximately one year after most cancer treatments, the vast majority of patients will be sufficiently recovered to donate blood products.

“We continually review scientific data and medical literature on this topic—always with the best interests of our donors and recipients at the top of our list,” says Dr. Kreuter, “and as I noted earlier, zero cases have been reported in the world about transmitting cancer via blood transfusions.”

How to Donate
For more information about donating blood in Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota, call (507) 284-4475 or email [email protected] For more information about the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center, visit the Blood Donor Center blog, the Blood Donor Center website, and/or like the center on Facebook.

What conditions disqualify you from donating blood?

Also in this week’s column:

  • What is the seven year itch?
  • What makes a good swimmer?
  • What is diptheria?

What conditions disqualify you from donating blood?

Asked by Patricia Lowe of Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Some people are disqualified from donating blood because they have diseases that are transmissible via blood. Other potential donors are disqualified because their conditions could endanger themselves.

According to the American Red Cross:

  • Being positive for the AIDS or hepatitis viruses rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Individuals who have had ear, tongue, or other body part piercing are allowed to donate blood as long as the needle used in the piercing was sterile. If it was not or if this is unknown, the potential donor must wait 12 months from the time of the piercing.
  • Being imprisoned rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Being in the US military and serving in Iraq or Afghanistan rules one out as a blood donor for one year.
  • A person with diabetes is allowed to donate blood. Insulin dependent diabetics are allowed to donate blood as long as their insulin syringe, if reused, is used only by them.
  • Being deferred from travel to the UK and Western Europe due to concerns about Mad Cow Disease rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Physically small people are not acceptable as blood donors as they have lower blood volumes and may not be able to safely lose a full pint of blood.
  • One may not donate blood while one has the flu. But one can donate blood after exposure to someone with the flu provided the potential donor feels and has no symptoms.
  • A minimum age limit exists as to how old a person must be in order to donate blood (usually age 17). There is no maximum age limit.
  • Pregnancy and recent childbirth rule one out as a blood donor. The safety of donating blood during and shortly after pregnancy has not been fully established. There may be medical risks to the mother and baby during this time.
  • Having high or low cholesterol does not exclude a person from donating blood.
  • Potential blood donors may be temporarily prevented from donating if they have a low level of iron (hematocrit) in their blood. This requirement is for the safety of the donor in order to ensure that their blood iron level remains within the normal range for a healthy adult.
  • For almost all cancers (such as breast, brain, prostate, and lung), a person may donate blood five years after diagnosis or date of the last surgery, last chemotherapy or last radiation treatment.
  • For blood cancers (such as leukemia or lymphoma), a person is not allowed to donate blood.
  • For non-melanoma skin cancer or a localised cancer that has not spread elsewhere, a person may give blood if the tumour has been removed and healing is complete.
  • If a potential donor has had malaria they cannot donate blood for 12 months. This is because the parasite that causes malaria can lay dormant in a person’s system for as long as a year.
  • A person cannot donate blood while they are on antibiotics. This is not because of the antibiotic, but due to the presence of the illness or infection requiring the antibiotic – it may be transmitted through the blood.
  • Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney.

    Liked this article? You can check out all The Odd Body columns here.

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To become a donor, you must:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Weigh at least 110 lbs
  • Be in general good health

As a new donor, you must:

  • Possess a document with your Social Security number or an INS number
  • Possess a valid picture ID (driver’s license, student or military ID) with your current local address

As a New Donor, it is Important That You Donate Two Times

Your second donation provides two sets of test results and health screenings to assure the safety and quality of the plasma supply. If you only donate one time, your plasma donation will not be used to help save lives.

You can donate two times within a 7 day period with at least 1 day between donations. Your body replenishes the plasma within 24 to 48 hours.

Certain circumstances could preclude you from donating plasma, such as recent tattoos, body piercing, prolonged residency in Europe, cancer and/or other medical conditions.

Learn more about this by reading the Donor Eligibility Requirements.

Important Notice to All Donors

As a plasma collection facility, we endeavor to keep a professional and safe environment for our donors and employees. It is our desire to provide a comfortable and pleasant donor experience for you while you are visiting Biotest Plasma Center. We will treat you with the utmost respect and will make every effort to facilitate the plasma donation process as quickly as possible.

We strive to provide you with a professional, state-of-the-art, clean facility and appreciate your assistance in maintaining that status. In order to do so, we need your help and ask that, while visiting us, you observe and conform to a few rules and regulations.

Learn more about this by reading the Important Notice to All Donors.

Biotest Plasma Center Dress Code

We take pride in providing a professional and customer friendly environment. Since our focus is giving you the best customer service, and we all only have one chance to make a first good impression, we require that all our employees be dressed appropriately. Our donors have a responsibility to also dress neatly and to be well groomed while in a Biotest Plasma Center. Please follow our guidelines.

Learn more about this by reading the Biotest Plasma Center Dress Code.

Wear comfortable loose-fitting clothes, with sleeves that can be rolled up past your elbow.

Did You Know You Might be Able to Donate Blood?

A seven-year breast cancer survivor, Debbie Woodbury writes and speaks about the emotional fallout of living with cancer. Her books, You Can Thrive After Treatment and How to Build an Amazing Life After Treatment (Amazon), share simple secrets to creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy beyond cancer. Debbie blogs at and you can find her writing at Positively Positive and the Huffington Post. A week or so before my mastectomy, I found myself in the blood donation center at my hospital. Before my diagnosis, I thought a lot about donating blood, but never actually rolled up my sleeve. Now, here I was, making an autologous blood donation in preparation for surgery.
I went in hoping I wouldn’t need my blood and it could be used by someone who did. What I didn’t know was that “autologous” meant my donation was usable only by me. Disappointed my blood would be destroyed and realizing how easy it was to donate, I promised the nurse I would be back.
Since then, I’ve donated blood and platelets many times and encourage other survivors to consider it too. You might think, as many cancer survivors do, that you aren’t eligible to donate, but according to the American Red Cross:
Eligibility depends on the type of cancer and treatment history. If you had leukemia or lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s Disease and other cancers of the blood, you are not eligible to donate. Other types of cancer are acceptable if the cancer has been treated successfully and it has been more than 12 months since treatment was completed and there has been no cancer recurrence in this time. Lower risk in-situ cancers including squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin that have been completely removed do not require a 12 month waiting period.
Precancerous conditions of the uterine cervix do not disqualify you from donation if the abnormality has been treated successfully. You should discuss your particular situation with the health historian at the time of donation.
Since 1970, National Blood Donors Month has been observed in January, when seasonal illnesses and bad weather make it especially hard to collect enough blood for patient needs. What motivates me to go out into the cold (and I don’t like needles any more than the next person) is the following from the American Red Cross:
More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
I’ve written about blood donation several times at WhereWeGoNow, but one comment left by a reader truly put it all into perspective:
Hi Debbie,
Thank you for donating blood! I received over 130 units of blood and many platelet transfusions as part of my treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia. It is so incredible to me that strangers donate a part of themselves to help someone who will most likely never have the chance to thank them.
I gave blood and platelets prior to my diagnosis, and you are so right…it feels wonderful to be able to give such an important gift. I recently starting (sic) having therapeutic phlebotomies because my iron is too high due to the transfusions. When I walked into the clinic, I got teary…now that I had experienced what it felt like to be on the receiving end of transfusions, the clinic took on a greater meaning to me.
Thank you for giving and for encouraging others. I always looked forward to my transfusions because they gave me energy, got rid of my anemia headaches and made the whole process of fighting cancer seem more doable.
Take care,
As a cancer survivor, I’m blessed to be able to help cancer patients struggling to make the “whole process of fighting cancer seem more doable.” If you’re interested in donating, talk to your doctor or contact your hospital, cancer center or the American Red Cross to determine your eligibility. You can also read about donating blood and tissue after cancer in “Donating the Gift of Life,” from CURE.

Cancer happens. Surviving cancer also happens. And with survival comes a new appreciation for old opportunities – like giving blood. Over the years we’ve had many of our blood donors sidetracked by a cancer diagnosis. But thanks to a change in guidelines, getting back into the routine of giving blood can happen sooner than you think.

Blood donor eligibility guidelines, specifically those related to solid tumor cancers and melanoma, changed in 2009. Survivors with solid tumor cancers, including breast cancer, are now eligible to give blood only two years after treatment, rather than the old five-year deferral. Melanoma survivors are no longer permanently deferred.

If you are one of hundreds of cancer survivors wanting to give blood again, contact Carter BloodCare’s Donor Notification Department to begin “re-entry” into the donor pool. You will be asked to fill out a Donor History Record Review, which will be forwarded to Medical Services for M.D. approval. Once our M.D.s give you a “thumbs up,” you’re ready to give again.

If you have been indefinitely deferred because of melanoma or a solid tumor cancer, including breast cancer, and would like more information about your eligibility, call Donor Notification at 1-888-480-8200. And if you are a blood donor who has survived a cancer diagnosis, let us know about it. Your story may give someone else the courage they need to give for the first time.

Like the heart or lungs, our blood is an essential element of our bodies that is easily taken for granted. Blood carries oxygen throughout the body. At tissues and organs, blood helps exchange nutrients and waste products. The cells that make up blood include:

  • Red blood cells (RBCs): RBCs contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen and gives blood its red color.

  • Platelets: These cells help form clots when we are bleeding. Clotting stops us from bleeding too much from an injury. When platelets are low, serious or life-threatening bleeding can occur.

  • Plasma: This yellow liquid in the blood carries the RBCs, platelets, and cells or proteins, like antibodies, that help fight infections. Cryoprecipitate is the part of plasma that separates as frozen plasma slowly thaws. It contains a higher concentration of blood-clotting proteins than regular plasma. People with cancer do not often need transfusions of this part of blood.

Why blood and platelet donations are needed

Unlike medicine, blood products cannot be made in a laboratory. But sometimes, extra blood is as vital to patient care as medicine. People with cancer may need extra whole blood or some portions, like platelets:

  • When cancer or its treatment causes low RBCs, called anemia, whole blood transfusions are used to replace the RBCs. Whole blood transfusions can be used to replace blood lost during surgeries, too.

  • People with cancer may develop low platelets, or thrombocytopenia, when the body’s bone marrow is damaged from some kinds of chemotherapy or from some types of leukemia or lymphoma.

Replenishing blood lost from an injury or chemotherapy requires blood from healthy donors. The American Red Cross organizes public blood collections and stores the blood in banks. In a standard process required by law, all donated blood is tested for blood type (A, B, AB, or O) and Rh type (positive or negative). The blood is also checked for any unexpected red blood cell antibodies that may cause problems for a recipient, as well as for diseases that could spread to recipients.

How to donate blood or platelets

If you’d like to donate blood or platelets, a good first step is to find your local Red Cross blood drive or blood bank where you can donate. Be sure to bring proper identification, like a driver’s license.

To qualify as a donor, you must be at least 16 or 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health. You may not be able to donate if:

  • You take certain medicines. People who take blood thinners may have a waiting period before they can donate. People taking antibiotics for an infection should wait until they are healthy again before donating.

  • You have certain health conditions: People with very high or very low blood pressure, some other heart conditions, or some viruses like HIV or hepatitis, may not be able to donate.

  • You have traveled to some countries: If you have traveled to or lived in countries with high rates of malaria or viruses like mad cow disease, you may have to wait or be unable to donate.

  • You are pregnant: Pregnant women cannot donate. You must wait 6 weeks after giving birth to give blood.

  • You have a history of cancer: People diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma previously may not be able to donate. People who have had other types of cancer or were treated a long time ago may qualify as donors.

Giving a whole-blood donation usually takes about 10 minutes. Blood is removed from a donor’s vein, usually in an arm, and put into a medical bag. Side effects are rare. You may receive juice and a snack afterward and should avoid heavy exercises for the rest of the day. Healthy people can donate again after 8 weeks.

You can donate only platelets, too. This process is called apheresis and is slightly different from giving a whole-blood donation. During the platelet donation, blood is removed from one arm, and then a centrifuge separates out the platelets. The rest of the blood then returns to the donor through the other arm. More platelets are collected this way than with whole-blood donation. The collected platelets cannot be stored as long as whole blood, however.

Platelet donation takes 2 hours and can have mild side effects like chills or tingling. Platelet donations can be repeated every 7 days, but most people are limited to 24 donations in a year. People who are interested in giving platelets should:

  • Avoid aspirin or products that contain aspirin at least 48 hours before a donation

  • Consume extra calcium and fluids before donating

  • Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise immediately after donating

Across the country, every day, there is always a need for more donated platelets and blood of all types. Talk with your doctor’s office or local blood donation center to find out more.

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