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Why do cancer patients need blood products?

Like the heart or lungs, our blood is an essential element of our bodies that is easily taken for granted. Blood carries oxygen throughout the body. At tissues and organs, blood helps exchange nutrients and waste products. The cells that make up blood include:

• Red blood cells (RBCs): RBCs contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen and gives blood its red color.

• Platelets: These cells help form clots when we are bleeding. Clotting stops us from bleeding too much from an injury. When platelets are low, serious bleeding can occur.

• Plasma: This yellow liquid in the blood carries the RBCs, platelets, and cells or proteins, like antibodies, that help fight infections. Cryoprecipitate is the part of plasma that separates as frozen plasma slowly thaws. It contains a higher concentration of blood-clotting proteins than regular plasma. People with cancer do not often need transfusions of this part of blood.

Unlike medicine, blood products cannot be made in a laboratory. But sometimes, extra blood is as vital to patient care as medicine. People with cancer may need extra whole blood or some portions, like platelets:

• When cancer or its treatment causes low RBCs, called anemia, whole blood transfusions are used to replace the RBCs. Whole blood transfusions can be used to replace blood lost during surgeries, too.

Replenishing blood lost from an injury or chemotherapy requires blood from healthy donors. 

Blood drives help. Cancer patients have a reliable supply of blood and blood products after or during their treatments