How stem cell donation works


On any given day, Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry searches on behalf of hundreds of patients in Canada in need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. Every new registrant brings hope to those waiting. Through this registry, we connect those whose life depends on the sincere generosity of volunteer stem cell donors.

Guide for Potential Unrelated Donors
Jump to information on donating cord blood


Join the stem cell registry

Take the registration questionnaire to find out if you are eligible.

Myths about stem cell donation

Being informed is crucial when registering to join Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. Listed below are some of the most commonly dispelled myths about blood stem cell donation. Read the FAQs. If you still have questions, please call 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) to speak with one of our healthcare professionals.


Myth: Stem cells are taken from the spinal cord.

Fact: No, stem cells are not taken from the donor’s spinal cord. For a bone marrow donation, stem cells are taken from the iliac crest which sits at the back of the pelvic bone.

Myth: All stem cell donations involve surgery.

Fact: Some donations involve surgery and others do not. Registered stem cell donors may be asked to donate stem cells from their peripheral blood or bone marrow. Bone marrow donation is a day surgical procedure done in an operating room. Peripheral blood stem cell donation is a non-surgical procedure done in an outpatient clinic.

Expectant mothers may also consent to donate their umbilical cord blood, rich in lifesaving stem cells, after the safe delivery of their baby.

Learn more about donating cord blood


Myth: Stem cell donation is painful.

Fact: For bone marrow donation, the collection of stem cells is taken from the iliac crest and is done using general anesthetic so the donor does not experience pain during the donation procedure. Donors have described having a mild-moderate soreness, bruising and aching at lower back are for a few days to several weeks after their donation.

For peripheral blood stem cell donation, only the stem cells are separated and collected during donation through a non-surgical procedure called apheresis. This is done in an outpatient clinic and takes approximately four-six hours. Donors have described feeling some mild discomfort during the procedure including feeling light-headed, nauseous and/or cold.

For expectant mothers who have consented to donate cord blood, the stem cells are collected after the safe delivery of the baby and placenta/umbilical cord. We do not interfere with the normal process of labour or delivery.

Learn more about donating cord blood

Myth: Stem cell donation involves a lengthy recovery process.

Fact: The recovery period for bone marrow donation varies from donor to donor. Most donors experience fatigue, soreness at the donation site, bruising and lower back pain for a few days to several weeks. Donors may also experience discomfort when walking, standing or sitting. Some donors have reported difficulty climbing stairs for a week or two after their donation. Donors are advised to avoid strenuous activities for 2 – 3 weeks after the donation.

The recovery period for peripheral blood stem cell donation is often much quicker. Most donors say they were able to return to work the day after their donation. Some donors have reported experiencing headaches, bone or muscle pain, nausea, insomnia and fatigue lasting between several days to a week following their donation.

Myth: If I donate stem cells, they cannot be replaced.

Fact: The body replaces donated blood stem cells within six weeks. After donating, most donors are back to their usual routine in a few days.

Myth: I come from a large family, so if I ever need a stem cell transplant, I should have no problem finding a match within my family.

Fact: The requirements for finding a genetic match are so precise that fewer than 25 per cent of those in need find a match within their own family. Patients have better odds of matching with someone who shares their ethnic background. That is why we need culturally diverse individuals age 17-35 to register to join Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry and expectant parents to consider donating their baby’s cord blood to Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank.