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A Blood Bank Official Replies

July 18, 1998

Ross Herron Jr., medical director of the American Red Cross Blood Services, Southern California region, spoke with MAURA E. MONTELLANO about blood donor policies.

A medical deferral is made for two reasons: to protect the donor or to protect the health of the blood product recipient. The first thing we do is discuss donor and recipient safety. This consists of pamphlets that each donor receives up front detailing what they must know before giving blood and describes who cannot be a donor. Donors must be over 17 years old, 110 pounds or heavier and be free of risk for hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Other blood centers have different deferral systems than Red Cross'. The FDA regulates all licensed blood centers. In its code of federal regulations there are guidelines for the suitability of donors.

If someone has had a diagnosis of cancer, it falls into a couple of categories. If they have had leukemia, lymphoma or Hodgkin's disease, which are cancers of the blood system, they can never donate blood. The same applies to someone who has had chemotherapy or immunotherapy. There is a five-year deferral for donors who have had cancer, including melanoma, even if they were treated with radiation. But if they have gone beyond the five years and have not received chemotherapy or had a recurrence of the same cancer, they are eligible to donate blood.

If the donor has had squamous cell skin cancer or basal cell skin cancer and it's been completely excised and healed, they are eligible. In situ cancers, such as cervical cancer that is noninvasive and has been completely excised and healed, allow them to be eligible as well. Individuals with cancers that didn't require chemotherapy and have not recurred in five years are considered to be recovered and therefore do not risk transmission of cancer cells in a blood transfusion.

We have a donor deferral registry that confidentially lists those who are ineligible to donate blood. There is a state deferral registry, which all blood banks have access to, that is maintained by the state.

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