More bone marrow donors are needed as NJ pediatric cancer cases increase
There has been a remarkable increase in the ability to treat pediatric cancers. One of the most important curative treatments for many types of pediatric cancers and other non-cancerous hematologic conditions, such as sickle-cell anemia, is the hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
This transplant is one of few treatments that people outside the oncology world can be a part of, said Lauren Daniel, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, Camden.
The bone marrow transplant helps to regrow a new immune system, she said.
Bone marrow transplant registries are so important for pediatric cancer patients in New Jersey because there are more diagnoses of pediatric cancer in the Garden State than there are nationwide.
Have pediatric cancer cases increased in New Jersey?
“Currently New Jersey has the third highest rate of pediatric cancer cases as of 2021. Nationwide, we’ve seen stability in our levels of pediatric cancer cases but New Jersey has seen a slight increase in over the last five years or so,” Daniel said.
She also noted that pediatric cancers are the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 15 and those rates are increasing.
Awareness about bone marrow transplant registries needs to be raised and people need to be aware that they can participate by being bone marrow donors.
“This is a life-sustaining gift that someone can give by giving blood parts by being in the hospital for one day in an outpatient procedure,” Daniel said.
How can people donate bone marrow?
While many donors are from a patient’s family, those who do not have a genetic match have to turn to a national registry of potential donors, such as the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be The Match” initiative.
Daniel said while there are local drives, potential donors can sign up online at www.bethematch.org. You’re put into this national registry where you’re then able to donate to anyone in the country.
She further explained that becoming a donor is as easy as contributing a cheek swab to the registry. Donors are then contacted at a later date if they match a patient.
What’s cool, she says is that 85% of the donations are done during apheresis. This is like giving platelets. People are hooked up to machines that take out the blood parts and put the rest of the blood back in the arm. It’s a one-day, outpatient procedure.
What do oncologists look for in a bone marrow donor?
One of the things oncologists look for is a strong genetic match between the patient and the donor and that’s why these registries are so important.
“There’s so much diversity in the human genome that we need to look at lots and lots of people to find the best match. The better the genetic match, the more genetic similarities there are, the better the outcome for the patient,” Daniel said.
The registry has more white individuals in it so there needs to be more diversity, she added. With the many different ethnic and racial backgrounds there are in the country, more diversity and more people with varied ethnic and racial makeup help make it easier to find matches for children of color, as well.
“Being able to give this gift is like the most amazing thing to a family with a child. You’re giving this child a second chance at life and you’re giving this family a second chance with their child,” Daniel said.