World Blood Donor Day – The value of blood transfusion in cancer treatment

Posted June 14, 2016

Transfusions of donated blood are vital, not only to people suffering injuries or undergoing surgery, but also to those with ongoing conditions such as blood diseases and cancer. To mark World Blood Donor Day (14th June), Consultant Haematologist Dr Biju Krishnan explains why blood donors are so important to her patients.

It may surprise you to learn that, around the world, over 85 million units of red blood cells are transfused every year,[1] making it one of the most common procedures in patients of all ages.[2]

Thanks to TV dramas and documentaries, we’re all familiar with bags of blood being used in operating theatres and A&E. But a large proportion of donated blood is used in other settings and in different forms, from the whole blood to various fractions such as plasma (the main fluid), red cells (that carry oxygen), white cells (that help fight infection) and platelets (that help stop bleeding). It’s easy to see how a significant reduction of any of these blood components can put a patient’s life at risk.

This is why blood product transfusions play an especially important role in the management of cancer, for example, where treatment such as chemotherapy can severely reduce or compromise one or more of these blood components. It is perhaps shocking to consider that a person with a life threatening disease could be in more immediate danger of dying because these blood products are not available for transfusion.

Many people don’t bother to give blood, assuming that it’s someone else’s problem, and someone else will solve it. Working doctors often meet the friends and relatives of patients whose lives have been saved by donated blood products, and who now ask how they can give blood to help other patients with the same need. And then, of the many people who do give blood and help save so many lives, a large proportion give blood maybe once a year or once every few years, thinking that their blood will be sitting in a fridge indefinitely, just waiting to save a life; however, even using current technology, we can only store red cells for 35 days and platelets for just 7 days!

If you don’t yet give blood, please think seriously about this, and what difference you could make… and what a huge difference you will make if you give blood regularly. The current guidelines state that men can give blood every three months and women every four. If you haven’t given blood this year, we urge you to visit sites such as https://www.blood.co.uk/ where you can find out how quickly and easily you can make a difference to somebody’s life. Next time, it could be yours.

[1] Carson, JL; Grossman, BJ, Kleinman, et al. for the Clinical Transfusion Medicine Committee of the AABB (Mar 26, 2012). “Red Blood Cell Transfusion: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the AABB”. Annals of Internal Medicine.

[2] Pfuntner A., Wier L.M., Stocks C. Most Frequent Procedures Performed in U.S. Hospitals, 2011. HCUP Statistical Brief #165. October 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

Harley Street at Queen’s offers the full range of treatment services for people with a range of cancers and blood diseases. We are proud to work with a team of internationally renowned specialists such as Dr Krishnan in a safe and modern environment containing the world’s most advanced technology. There are no waiting lists and appointment times can be arranged to suit you.