What's on this page?
- What do I need to know before applying?
- What happens when you join the stem cell register?
- What happens if you're asked to donate?
- What do donors say donating feels like?
- All your questions answered?
- What can I do if I can't join?
For someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder, an amazing stranger donating their stem cells could be their best chance of survival.
If you sign up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register and one day come up as a genetic match, you could be that amazing stranger. Without you, there is no cure.
Did you know?
If you’re male and/or from a minority ethnic background, then you can make an even bigger difference to patients as these donors are needed most.
To apply to join the stem cell register, you need to fill in our online form to request a swab pack to complete and post back.
‘It's amazing to know that I’ve been part of something that has had such a big impact on someone’s life. And it’s so easy!’
- Jacob, stem cell donor
What do I need to know before applying?
It’s super important you know what joining the stem cell register involves. Watch our donation animation below for the full story.
The key things to remember are:
- You’ll stay on our register until you turn 61, but we will only ask you to donate your stem cells if you come up as a match for someone who needs you.
- There are two ways you could be asked to donate, and you need to be comfortable with both as it’s based on what’s best for the patient:
- 90% of people donate via their bloodstream – you’ll receive a course of injections for a few days before, and then go into hospital for the day where stem cells are collected from your bloodstream over 4-5 hours and filtered out using a special machine.
- 10% of people donate through their bone marrow – the cells are collected from your hip bone while you’re under a general anaesthetic so you won’t feel a thing - you’ll stay in hospital for two nights.
Did you know?
You need to be aged 16–30 to join our stem cell register. Research has shown that younger donors increase a patients' chance of surviving.
What happens when you join the stem cell register?
1. Fill in the form
We have an online application form that asks all the right questions:
- Your details, including age, height and weight to check you’re eligible, as well as contact information
- Medical questionnaire to make sure you are in good health to donate. Keeping you safe is our top priority!
- A back-up contact who we can get in touch with if we’re struggling to reach you if you come up as a match
2. Send back your swabs
Once your application is approved, we’ll send your swab pack in the post for you to complete and post back ASAP. We can only add you to the register once we’ve got your swabs back in our lab ready to find out your tissue type.
3. You’re Lifesaver Ready
You’ll get an email and donor card in the post when your application is complete. If you haven’t already, now is the time to let the world know you’re #LifesaverReady!
After you’ve sent those Tweets/Whatsapps/told your nearest and dearest, it’s time to wait and see if one day you get the call to say you’re a match.
...to keep your contact details up to date so we can quickly get in touch if you’re a match.
What happens if you are asked to donate?
1. You’re a match!
If you are identified as a potential match for a patient, then we’ll be in touch! We’ll call, email and text to make sure we reach you - please get back to our team as soon as possible.
You’ll be asked to provide some blood samples, and if the match is confirmed then you’ll have a medical examination to make sure it’s completely safe for you to donate.
Did you know?
You’ll be asked to donate in one of our collection centres – these are in NHS and private hospitals in Sheffield, Manchester, Oxford and London.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we're doing extra health checks to ensure the safety of our donors and patients.
‘It humbled me to think that, despite my own struggles with furlough and redundancy, I can still help other people’
- Georgia, stem cell donor
2. Your donation
When your donation can go ahead, we’ll arrange a date that suits you and organise absolutely everything.
Did you know?
We’ll book and pay for hotels and travel for you and a companion, and cover any reasonable expenses and loss of earnings.
You’ll be asked to donate via one of the two methods, either through your bloodstream or from your bone marrow. Both these procedures are carried out thousands of times every year and are very safe. Everything will be explained to you before your donation day, including any side-effects you should expect (you can read more about these below) and how to deal with them, and you’ll have lots of time to ask any questions.
Did you know?
9 out of 10 people donate through their bloodstream in a process called PBSC. 1 in 10 people donate through their bone marrow under general anaesthetic.
Whatever method you donate via, you’ll receive a visit or a phone call from an Anthony Nolan volunteer to say a huge thank you from all of us.
Did you know?
Your donation will be completely anonymous and will take place in the UK. Amazingly, your donated cells could go to help someone anywhere in the world!
3. After your donation
Once you have donated, our lovely Donor Follow-Up team will check in with you to make sure you’re doing OK.
Most donors will feel some side-effects due to their donation, but they’re usually mild and get better with rest:
- If you donate through your bloodstream, the most common side effect is bone pain after your pre-donation injections as your body is busy producing extra stem cells. You may also feel fatigued - taking paracetamol and resting should help, and these will go away quickly after your donation day.
- If you donate through your bone marrow, you’ll feel achy in the area around your hip bones in your back where the bone marrow was taken from and have some bruising, as well as feel tired after the general anaesthetic. Again, taking paracetamol and resting should help.
We also keep in touch with our donors for the next 10 years to make sure you’re doing well.
Depending on the rules in different countries, our Donor Follow-Up team might be able to help you make contact with your recipient if you wanted to – this would be anonymous for the first two years.
What do donors say donating feels like?
Is it painful?
'I expected the procedure to be painful and very tense and serious but I ended up basically just taking a long nap and watched a few movies. It was quite cosy especially with heated blankets to allow my blood to flow better. All in all it was quite therapeutic.'
'I’ve never had a general anaesthetic before but that was not as big a deal as I thought it was. I was tired, but when I was in recovery I was just lying there and I didn’t feel like I had had anything done'
Do I have to take time off work?
'The process was all so easy because it was all fitted around me. They fit it to when I was free and when I could get down there, and my employer said I could take any time off I needed'
Did you know?
You might need to take some time off work for your donation and recovery – if your employer won’t give you paid leave, we’ll cover any loss of earnings.
What if I don’t like needles?
'I'm not keen on needles, I'm not keen on blood tests, I'm not keen on any of that kind of stuff. But this process was made so easy by everyone involved, so if anyone is on the fence about registering because of similar fears that I had, it’s not something to worry about. I think saving someone’s life speaks for itself.'
What real donors have to say about the experience
All your questions answered
Why do you need to be aged 16–30?
You need to be over 16 to join the stem cell register in order to give ‘informed consent’. As stem cell donation is voluntary and not of direct benefit to the donor, a parent/guardian can’t give consent on behalf of a minor.
Our upper age limit is 30 because our research has shown that the younger a donor is, the better chance of survival a patient has. As it costs us £40 to add each donor to the register, we focus our limited funds on recruiting donors aged 30 and under (you can sign up until the day before your 31st birthday!). Once on the register, you could be asked to donate up until you turn 61.
Why do you need more men to join the register?
Young men are far more likely to be chosen to donate by transplant centres and provide more than half of all donations, but make up only 18% of our register.
Can I join the register if I'm a gay man?
Yes. Your sexuality won’t stop you joining our register. You’ll be subject to the same rules and health checks as everyone else.
Can I join the register if I'm taking PrEP?
You can join the register if you're taking PrEP. But if you're asked to donate between now and when you turn 61 (which is on average a 1 in 800 chance) then you might not be able to donate if you'd taken PrEP in the previous few months. This is because PrEP interferes with the testing process that all potential donors go through.
Can I join the register if I've had the COVID-19 vaccine?
You can join the register if you've had the COVID-19 vaccine. But if you're asked to donate (which is on average a 1 in 800 chance) then you might not be able to donate if you've had the vaccine within the previous 28 days. This is because the antibodies from the vaccine will interfere with the testing process that all potential donors go through.
Why do you need more people from minority ethnic backgrounds?
People from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have rarer tissue types, making it harder to find patients from these backgrounds a matching donor. There are already thousands of people from minority ethnic backgrounds on our stem cell register, but we need to make sure they are overrepresented on the register to help find more matches.
If I've already joined a stem cell register, do I need to apply again?
No. You only need to be on one register as every time a patient needs a transplant, their hospital will contact Anthony Nolan and we will search all the potential donors in the UK and around the world to find a match.
How can I check if I'm already on the Anthony Nolan stem cell register?
You can send your name and date of birth to our team so they can check for you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do you need to be willing to donate via both methods?
It’s ultimately up to a patient’s doctor to decide whether they need stem cells collected from the bloodstream or from the bone marrow based on what’s best for the patient. That’s why you need to understand and be willing to donate via both methods.
If you came up as a match and didn’t want to go ahead, it could have serious consequences if the patient has already started their preparation treatment for a transplant. That’s why we ask you to be fully committed when you sign up.
What are the chances that I'll be called up as a match?
The majority of people on our register never donate. Once you are on the register you have a 1 in 800 chance of being asked to donate in the next five years.
But your chance of being chosen to donate depends on your age and sex. A young man aged 16–30 has a 1 in 200 chance of being chosen to donate in the next five years.
We’ll only ask you to donate if you have a similar tissue type to someone in desperate need of a transplant.
What happens to the person who receives my stem cells?
Your recipient will have undergone a lot of treatment to get them to the day of their stem cell transplant. Your cells will allow their body to grow a brand new immune system that can help stop their blood cancer or blood disorder from coming back.
If you have a question that we haven’t answered here, please email our team at email@example.com
What can I do if I can’t join?
If you’re not able to join the register or you just can’t wait to start saving lives, then there are some very important ways you can help grow the stem cell register right now: