Can I Donate Blood if I've Had Cancer?

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As an active blood donor myself, this question was recently posed and hit near and dear to my heart. There are many different rules governing the health of the blood donor, created to protect both the well being of the donor and the recipient. You may not be aware that of the 7.7 million units of blood that are provided to people in need annually, the American Red Cross collects 5.3 million units yearly.

We are constantly in need -- in the millions -- for blood donations. However, as much as we have a need for blood donations, there are a few circumstances when cancer survivors have to bow this one out.

American Red Cross Guidelines

On their website, you will find that the basic guidelines for blood donation include:

  • Being at least 17 years of age
  • Weighing at least 110 pounds
  • Be in good health

The blood that you donate fully regenerates around the four to six week mark, which is why to be safe, you must wait at least eight weeks prior to donating again. Chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure or COPD, which are under control, do not preclude your ability to donate. 

A few guidelines help govern blood donation for cancer survivors, but ultimately, it is up to the discretion of the doctor running the donation center. As not to waste your time, it is best to call the center in advance and inquire if you meet eligibility requirements.

The general cancer-related donation criteria states that you must not have a blood cancer, and that you must be free and clear of all cancer for at least one year. Some locations might make you wait as long as five to ten years before allowing a donation.

Your chances of donating sooner improve greatly if your cancer was successfully treated by surgery alone.

For colon cancer survivors, this might mean removal of a cancerous polyp during your colonoscopy. In fact, some centers require no waiting period for people who had non-invasive skin cancers or pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix that have been treated or removed.

Active Cancer Treatment

You cannot donate blood f you are actively undergoing any type of treatment for your colon cancer. People who are going to have bowel surgery need all of their blood for the upcoming surgery, when they will likely lose some. Likewise, if you've recently undergone surgery, you need your blood and nutrients it carries to heal properly. If you are getting radiation or chemotherapy, you will likewise be declined for donation. 

A few other circumstances when blood donation with cancer is a no-go: 

  • If you've ever been diagnosed with Kaposi's Sarcoma
  • If you also have any type of blood borne illness, such as HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis
  • If, as an adult, you have been diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma
  • When your cancer has recurred, is growing, or has metastasized

    Having leukemia as a child does not prohibit your ability to donate blood, but only if you've been cancer free for at least 10 years. 

    Other Ways You Can Help

    If your doctor or the donation center has informed you that you can no longer donate blood -- or you just can't donate blood right now -- there are other ways that you can stay involved and remain just as heroic as donors. 

    In conjunction with your local blood bank or American Red Cross, you can help arrange a blood drive at your church, place of employment, or other venue. Volunteers are also always needed to help with the drives, and giving of your precious time can be just as vital as the giving of your blood. If those options do not appeal, consider making a financial donation to the American Red Cross. The money is used for ongoing drives, research, and even disaster relief when tragedy strikes individuals or the community at large. 


    American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Blood Donation by Cancer Survivors. Accessed online August 22, 2015.

    American Red Cross. (n.d.). About Us. Accessed online August 22, 2015.

    American Red Cross. (n.d.). Donation FAQS. Accessed online August 22, 2015.

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