May 24th, 2010
06:05 PM ET

African Americans lack access to marrow transplants

By Trisha Henry and Jennifer Bixler
CNN Medical News

Every year, more than 10,000 Americans are found to have cancers of the blood, such as leukemia or lymphoma. For many of them, bone marrow transplants are the only thing that can save their lives. However, a new study suggests not everyone has the same access to marrow transplants.

Caucasians are 40 percent more likely to undergo bone marrow transplants than African Americans in the United States, says study author Dr. J. Douglas Rizzo of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "I don't think we know why.” His study appears in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society . Rizzo says more research needs to be done to understand why minorities don't always have the same access to care as whites.

The study found there are a combination of things that may influence whether someone chooses to get a bone marrow transplant. It could be a patient's cultural beliefs, financial resources, lack of insurance, or the inability to find a match, since minorities are much less represented among the potential donor pool. "There is a lot of ethnic mixing within in the us," says Rizzo.

The other issue is lack of minority bone marrow donors. Be the Match, the national donor registry, has special outreach programs for minorities. More than 8 million people are on the registry in the United States and 13 million worldwide, according to Tiffany Friesen, Southeast program director. "Right now, the chances of Caucasians finding a match using the registry is in the 90th percentile,” Friesen says, “but if you are a minority, your chances can be as low as 50 percent."

An anonymous bone marrow donor saved Gigi Pasley's life when she was 4. Her mother, Jessica Pasley, urges everyone she meets to get on the National Bone Marrow Registry. "It is imperative, people just don't know how important it is," says Pasley from her office in Nashville, Tennessee. Gigi is now 12 and cancer free. "I just look at Gigi and know she wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her donor."

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. esther eason

    can you advise if there are. any programs for stroke patients who are unable to use their hand. my husband had a stroke about 5 m onths ago and still does not have the use of his left hand. theraphy does not seem to make a difference. we need help and info.

    May 27, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. John Frierson

    Thanks so much for bringing this issue to cnn viewers/readers. I am an African American bone marrow donor. There are so many African Americans who are hesitant to join the registry because of the myths associated with the process. We are glad to announce that the US Congress approved a resolution proposed by A Bone Marrow Wish organization (Detroit) for an annual "African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month" to bring even more awareness and education to African Americans across the country during July. See H.Res.205 to learn more. We are excited to do our part as a nontraditional grassroots organization to help potentially save a life. Hopefully readers of all racial/ethnic backgrounds will be encouraged by your post to inform their friends and family to join the registry and eliminate the gap among under represented groups on the registry.

    May 29, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sharon

    Thank you for shedding light on this very important issue that a lot of African Americans may not be aware of. This article is a good start to help spread the word and the post by “John Frierson" is very informative. Thank you!

    November 3, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. SmartBlondie

    Could it be that they charge an exorbitant amount for people to be registered as donors? I am caucasian, and wanted to register but simply can't afford it. I would imagine that any group that falls into a lower economic status would have the same problem.

    November 3, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Harry

      Actually, minority registrants can normally sign up for free, because there is such a pressing need for more minority donors. For some ethnic minorities, the likelihood of finding a match in the national donor registry is under 10%, so they waive the fees to encourage minority participation. But they can't waive the fees for everyone, because it is expensive to process and tissue-type the samples that are sent in. To find out if a donor is a match for someone in need, they need to know if several DNA markers match, so they have to analyze the samples, which is expensive. Sometimes if you register during a big drive this fee will be paid by a charitable organization. If not, perhaps you could save a few dollars every month and sign up for the registry in a year or two.

      November 3, 2010 at 21:07 | Report abuse |
    • srco

      I didn't have to pay a fee and I am white... thought I joined in the 90s. Maybe things have changed. You might consider donating blood or blood products (like plasma or platelets) at the American Red Cross and see if the fee is waived if you go through them. It's just a thought... although it is costly to type the samples, as Harry said. Anyway, if the fee is a factor for you, this is one alternative that you could try. And in the mean time, you will be donating (at no cost!) something else that a cancer patient (or otherwise sick person) needs. Give it a try!

      November 8, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
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