Blood cancer patients face stem cell shortage as donors fall 70 per cent

A blood cancer charity has put out an urgent call for stem cell donors to come forward after revealing that numbers have plummeted 70 per cent due to coronavirus.

DKMS said it had registered 10,661 new donors in Britain between March and May this year, compared to 35,058 during the same period in 2019.

Stem cell transplants are often the last chance of a successful treatment for blood cancer patients.

Although only around 2,000 people require a bone marrow or stem cell transplant each year in the UK, the difficulty of matching donors and recipients means a large donor pool is required.

Moreover, because of the backlog of delayed cancer appointments, experts believe there will be a higher demand for transplants than usual in the coming months.

Reshna Radiven, head of communications at DKMS – a German multinational charity with a UK arm – said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a “significant impact” on donors and with the drop in cancer referrals during the pandemic there could be a large backlog of people needing a donor in the near future.

“Quite a lot of transplants have been postponed by Covid-19, so as we come out of lockdown there’s lots of patients who have been waiting for a while who will have a more urgent need for a donor, and it seems like there’s going to be another backlog coming through, so even more reason for more people to sign up to become a stem cell donor,” she said.

Young men aged 16 to 30 who sign up to donate  have a one in 200 chance of being called to donate compared to a one in 800 chance for everyone else.

The charity said that it has around 660,000 donors in the UK on its database, but finding a match when a patient needs it can be like finding a “needle in a haystack”.

The charity is encouraging people to register to become potential donors by sending swabs through the post.

People can sign up for a swab pack online, which will be posted out, and they then need to return the swabs in a pre-paid envelope.

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