Here at Leukaemia Care, we are always urging our supporters to give blood if they can. Why? Because it’s a vital part of treatment for blood cancer patients. Patients with blood cancer and blood disorders will often need blood transfusions during treatment, simply because the disease itself can affect the normal production of blood. In addition, chemotherapy can disrupt blood production and lower the immune system, meaning that white blood cells and other components may be needed.
One of these ‘other components’ is platelets. These help blood to clot, and can be used to treat patients who have bone marrow failure, have had chemotherapy, or have leukaemia.
When someone gives whole blood, their donation will usually be split into red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma.
So, why do we need people to donate their platelets separately as well?
Platelets can only be stored for up to seven days, compared to red blood cells, which can be stored for up to 35 days, and plasma, which can be stored for up to three years, so the demand is always high.
In addition, whilst you must wait up to 16 weeks between blood donations, you only need to wait 14 days between platelet donations. This is because your body can replace your lost platelets in a day, but it takes four to six weeks for your body to replenish your level of red blood cells.
Who can give platelets?
You can become a platelet donor if:
- You’re in good health
- You’re aged 17 to 65 (if you haven’t donated before)
- You’re over 65 and have given blood before
- You’re over 70 and have given a full donation in the last two years
You do not need to have given blood before. However, you will need to give a small sample of blood to determine if you have a high enough platelet count. They will also need to know your gender, height and weight to determine if you have a high enough blood volume.
How do I sign up?
If you’re eligible to give platelets and you’d like to become a donor, simply head to the give platelets website, search for your nearest platelet donation centre, and register your interest.
What happens on the day?
When you are settled in your chair, a blood pressure cuff will be placed around your arm to maintain pressure during the donation, your skin will be cleaned with an antiseptic sponge, and the donation needle inserted.
During the procedure, blood is withdrawn, mixed with anticoagulant to prevent clotting, and processed by spinning to separate the platelets. The rest of your blood is returned to you, which is why it is safe for you to donate more often than whole blood. Any white cells that remain in your platelet donation are also removed, as these could cause problems in a patient, despite being harmless to you.
Whilst you are donating, you will be monitored and cared for by qualified staff and nurses. During this time, you can read a book, listen to music, or chat to the staff. You will also be offered refreshments.
When the procedure is complete, the needle will be removed, and a dressing applied to the venepuncture site. After donating, you will be able to rest and enjoy some refreshments.
Can’t give platelets or blood? You may be eligible to donate your stem cells!
If you aren’t eligible to give platelets or blood, you may still be able to help blood cancer patients by joining the stem cell register.
If you want to find out more about giving blood, read our blog here.