Over the weekend, a bone marrow donor drive was held by Superior Court Judge Carl Fox in Chapel Hill. Judge Fox has been battling a blood cancer known as Myelodysplastic Syndrome where bone marrow cells no longer make enough healthy blood cells.
Myelodysplastic syndrome is rare – about four in every 100,000 people get MDS. It mainly affects older people, and is more common in people over 70 years old.
Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these cancers start in your bone marrow where blood cells are produced. In the bone marrow there are stem cells that develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.
Each of these cell types has a critical function in the body. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell—these are the cancerous cells that prevent blood cells from doing their normal jobs, such as fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. Common types of blood cancer include leukemias, lymphomas and myelomas.
Some common blood cancer symptoms include:
- Fever, chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Loss of appetite, nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone/joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms, groin
The particular treatment for blood cancer depends on exactly what type of cancer you have and what stage the of the disease process you are diagnosed.
In most patients, chemotherapy, radiation and transfusions are a big part of initial therapy. However, in a lot of patients, a bone marrow transplant is required in order to control or cure the disease process.
In a bone marrow transplant, we treat a blood cancer using very high doses of chemotherapy that destroy the bone marrow as a side effect. We then harvest matched bone marrow to replace the marrow that is destroyed.
The goal is to have a patient with transplanted bone marrow that works correctly to produce blood cells and no longer produces any cancer cells. It can be highly effective and curative in many cases.
About 20,000 patients a year need a bone marrow transplant. There are thousands of tissue types, and family members are a match only 25 percent of the time.
More than 18,250 transplants were performed in 2013. Bone marrow donors are often hard to locate for African-American patients. Caucasian patients can find a match 95 percent of the time, but it’s 66 to 67 percent for black patients—mainly because there are fewer registered black bone marrow donors. Only seven percent of people on the registry are black.
Donors, ages 18 to 25, offer the best chance for success irrespective of race or ethnicity. However, anyone can register to be a donor and can potentially be a good match.
Registering for bone marrow donation is easy and painless. A swab of your DNA is taken from your cheek and placed in an envelope. It is sent to a lab and your genetic type is registered and stored in a database.
If you are a match, someone will reach out to you to ask if you would like to come in for further testing. Donation is relatively painless. In most cases, it is similar to giving blood. It is an outpatient procedure and you go home the same day.