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Treating Leukemia Patients Using Cord Blood

Cord Blood Can Be Used To Treat Leukemia

Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, strikes about 44,000 men and women in the United States each year. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1 in 75 people will be diagnosed with leukemia in their lifetime. [1] Understanding how cord blood can be used to treat leukemia is important in considering whether to bank or donate umbilical cord blood.

There are several types of leukemia separated into chronic and acute categories. Chronic leukemias tend to progress more slowly while acute leukemias are more rapidly-progressing and aggressive. Generally speaking, untreated acute leukemias are fatal within weeks or months. [2]

Leukemia treatments are recommended according to the type of leukemia and other specific patient conditions. Using cord blood to treat leukemia is just one of several available and effective therapies. The National Marrow Donor Program reports that more than 70 percent of all bone marrow and cord blood transplants that it facilitates are used for the treatment of various forms of leukemia. [3]

Cord Blood & Leukemia

Using cord blood to treat leukemia falls into the category of hematopoietic (blood-forming) cell transplants. Those hematopoietic transplants (cord blood, bone marrow and peripheral blood cell) work by providing the leukemia patient with “stem cells” that grow to produce healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Here’s how a cord blood transplant usually works: the leukemia patient is given high-dose chemotherapy or radiation to kill the diseased blood cells. Then the patient is given an infusion of “stem cells,” such as umbilical cord blood or bone marrow. The cord blood cells then begin to produce healthy blood cells within three to four weeks. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, “when a transplant is successful, the donor stem cells can restore normal marrow function.” [4]

Most cord blood transplants for leukemia treatments come from cord blood donated by a relative or a closely-matched non-relative. For those considering collecting and storing umbilical cord blood for a relative who has leukemia, there are several public cord blood bank programs available. Information and links to public banks for those wishing to store core blood for relatives are available through the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, For those considering donating cord blood to a registry program, information about donation banks is available through the National Marrow Donor Program, or the Bone & Marrow Transplant Information Network,

Whether one is considering using cord blood to treat the leukemia of a relative or sending it to a public donation registry, cord blood transplants can save the lives of many. Although the use of cord blood to treat leukemia is relatively new, it is an important part of the treatment options available to a leukemia patient.

[1] U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results,
[2] Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, p. 1227, 2005. F.A. Davis Company.
[3] National Marrow Donor Program, Patient Frequently Asked Questions,
[4] Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Fact Sheet.

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