Bone Marrow Cancer – What we can do to help

Myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the plasma cells in the bone marrow. As the cancer progresses, your body is not able to produce normal blood cells and your bone marrow begins to fill up with cancerous plasma cells.

This can lead to anemia, bleeding problems and infections, as well as bone and kidney damage. The disease is, however, manageable with a combination of chemotherapy and other treatments, which can ease the symptoms and prolong survival for a number of years.


How does bone marrow cancer work?

Myeloma appears to be as a result of one plasma cell in the bone marrow becoming cancerous. That one cell then multiplies, often without any kind of means of control, and collects in the bone marrow.

Diagnosis typically comes as a result of varying tests, including a blood or urine test, a bone marrow sample and an x-ray of the bones.

Myeloma can have a number of different effects, the most prominent of which is the damage caused to the bone by the increasing number of cancerous cells. This can cause pain, fractures, nerve compression and high levels of calcium in the blood.

The cancer can also cause bone marrow failure, which can then lead to a decreased number of blood cells, blood clotting problems and serious infection, as the abnormal cells only produce one type of antibody, which does not protect against infection.

Myeloma can also put strain on the kidneys because of the increased calcium levels in the blood. It can also thicken the blood in very rare cases, due to the high levels of paraprotein.


What is donating bone marrow or stem cells all about?

The first thing that’s important to understand about bone marrow/stem cell donation is that the cells completely regenerate. The second is that there are many myths surrounding the process.

Commonly, the stem cells are collected from the blood instead of the bone marrow itself. Bone marrow is mostly directly collected in the case of sick children, who respond better to bone marrow cells than stem cells. Both procedures are painless (the bone marrow cell collection is done under anesthesia) and the after-effects can involve muscle pain and aches for a few days, but nothing more than that.

There are many myths about the importance of bone marrow/stem cell donation. For one thing, it is critically important — of the 6000 people in the US currently searching for a match, only 30% will find one in time. The rest will die. Not only that, but there is a desperate need for ethnic marrow/cells. The reality is that 40% of ethnic minority parents will find a match for their sick child, while the figure is 80% for caucasian parents.

Donations are desperately needed and considering that many of the myths around them are just that, myths, you should not be discouraged from wanting to help.


Where and how can I donate?

The Sunflower Fund is a South African organisation that educates and recruits donors. It raises the funds required to grow a diverse registry of healthy, committed donors.

You can register as a donor by calling 0800 12 10 82, and you will be given eligibility criteria and more information about the donation process. Remember: the eligibility criteria are different from donating blood, so don’t hesitate to find out more.

You can also visit the fund’s website for more information.

The Sunflower Fund strives to recruit 400 000 donors representative of all ethnic groups, offering more hope to those patients who are searching for suitable matches.



Kenny, T., & Tidy, C. (n.d.). Myeloma. (H. Gronow, Editor) Retrieved 10 24, 2016, from Patient:

Marrow Drives. (2016, 10 24). Myths about Marrow/Stem Cell Donation. Retrieved from

NHS Choices. (n.d.). Bone marrow donation – How it is performed . Retrieved 10 24, 2016, from NHS Choices:

SABMR – South African Bone Marrow Registry. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions – How are stem cells donated. Retrieved 10 24, 2016, from South African Bone Marrow Registry:

SANBR – South African Bone Marrow Registry. (n.d.). Become a Donor. Retrieved 10 24, 2016, from South African Bone Marrow Registry:



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