Joining the Anthony Nolan Register, the facts

John Smith

Back in April, FDM UK announced a partnership with blood cancer charity, Anthony Nolan. The charity works to match incredible people willing to donate their stem cells to the 2,000 people across the UK in desperate need of a lifesaving transplant each year.

There are many ways you can get involved with the charity whether you’re spreading the word, fundraising or signing up to potentially donate – and donating couldn’t be simpler.

So let’s dispel some myths we’ve heard since the announcement…

“It’s such a hassle to sign up”

Here’s the truth – if you’re aged 16 to 30 and in good health, you can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register by producing a simple cheek swab and filling out a form, which takes under 5 minutes.

In 2016, a YouGov survey found that a shocking 34% of young men who wouldn’t sign up as a stem cell donor were ‘scared that the experience would be painful’. Which brings us onto the next myth…

“Donating is incredibly painful”

The majority of donors tell Anthony Nolan otherwise. There are two ways you can donate stem cells to a patient with blood cancer or a blood disorder. 90% of people donate their stem cells via their bloodstream in a straightforward process, called peripheral blood stem cell collection, which takes around 4-5 hours (the time to watch a couple of movies) The other 10% have their stem cells collected via bone marrow itself, whilst under general anaesthetic.

“I’ll have to take a month off work if I donate”

Many people think that donating will require a lengthy period of rest and recovery – but this isn’t factually correct. People who donate via the bloodstream have reported flu-like symptoms from the hormone injections, but these tend to vanish within a few days. People who donate through bone marrow tend to feel a bit tired and bruised, and the charity recommends taking a short break from work to recover. But that’s all it takes to make a lifesaving difference.

“I’ll have to travel really far to donate and that’s going to cost me so much money”

There are specialist collection centres, in London, Manchester and Sheffield. Anthony Nolan will organise and pay for your travel and hotel, so don’t worry about costs. They recommend you bring a companion with you, who will also be covered for costs.


So now we’ve banished some myths, it’s now time for the facts…


“How does blood stem cell collection work?”

It’s honestly a lot easier than you think. A nurse will come to your home or office to give you injections of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) over four days. This is a naturally-occurring hormone which increases the number of stem cells your body produces. On the fourth day you’ll be asked to travel to the collection centre for your injection.

The following day a doctor or nurse will insert a small tube into each arm, draw out the blood, and pass it through a machine to collect stem cells.

Donation takes around 4-5 hours but you won’t need general anaesthetic or to stay in hospital overnight – incredibly simple.

“How does bone marrow donation work?”

You’ll spend two nights in London, Sheffield or Manchester. Under general anaesthetic, doctors will take some bone marrow from your pelvis using a needle and syringe.

You’ll probably feel tired and have a little bruising and pain in your lower back after donation. But this generally passes within a week or so.

“Will I be able to find out what happened to my stem cells?”

So once you’ve donated and a courier has collected your cells and taken them to the recipient – you can ask to be given an update on their progress, however this is not always possible due to data protection. You may choose to write or email anonymously to the person you donated to and Anthony Nolan will send this onto the patient, and any replies from them to you if they reply.  Some patients and donors may choose to meet each other after a minimum of two years after the donation, this depends on the health of the patient and any regulations from their registry if they live outside of the UK


By joining the register and potentially going on to donate your stem cells you could give someone a second chance of life – with the full support of FDM and Anthony Nolan. If you have any questions about our Anthony Nolan partnership, or wish to join the register please contact FDM’s charity contact – Georgia Beech.