Umbilical cord blood can help children with cancer and blood disorders

July is Cord Blood Awareness Month. Did you know that umbilical cord blood can be used to treat more than 70 diseases, including blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma?

July is Cord Blood Awareness Month. Did you know that umbilical cord blood can be used to treat more than 70 diseases, including blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma? If you’re expecting a baby, you have several options regarding the cord blood that can help treat blood cancers and other life-threatening diseases. Unless you choose to bank or donate the cord blood, the umbilical cord and placenta typically are discarded after birth.

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How does cord blood treat diseases?

Umbilical cord blood has an important and growing role in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening diseases. Cord blood is one of three sources of blood-forming cells used in transplants. The other two sources are bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells.

Cord blood may be an option for transplant based on a patient’s needs. A doctor may choose cord blood to treat a patient because:

  • Cord blood doesn’t need to be as close of a match to the patient as a marrow donor, so it may be an option for patients with uncommon tissue types.
  • It’s quickly available when a patient needs a transplant right away, due to the way it is stored.
  • Studies show that a transplant complication called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is less common and less severe in patients after a cord blood transplant versus a transplant using peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC).

Today, 11% of transplant patients receive cord blood from an anonymous donor.

What options do new parents have with their child’s cord blood?

Parents have many options for saving cord blood, including:

  • Store in a family (private) cord blood bank. Most babies are born healthy and grow up without the threat of serious disease. However, serious illness can strike without warning. Family cord blood banks store the blood for use by the family.
  • Donate to a public cord blood bank. Donating to a public cord blood bank makes your baby’s cord blood available to any patient who needs a transplant. It is not specifically reserved for your family. Only certain hospitals are able to collect umbilical cord blood for storage in public cord blood banks.
  • Save for a sibling who has a medical need. When a biological sibling has a disease that may be treated with a cord blood transplant, parents can choose to save their baby’s cord blood for the sibling. Collecting and storing cord blood for sibling-directed donation is offered at little or no cost to eligible families. Contact a participating public cord blood bank or a family cord blood bank.

What diseases or conditions may be treated by umbilical cord blood transplant?

Stem cells can be used in the treatment of a variety of major diseases and serious medical conditions, including:

  • Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • Solid tumors
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Rare forms of anemia
  • Hurler syndrome

Cord blood banking at Norton Healthcare

The Family Link Cord Blood Storage Program is a service of Norton Healthcare for storing umbilical cord blood from newborns. Family Link, a private facility established in 1998, serves families within a four-hour driving distance from Louisville.

A baby’s stem cells are preserved from the umbilical cord and placenta at birth. The cells are kept at ultralow temperatures through a process called cryopreservation and stored in the Stem Cell Laboratory at Norton Children’s Hospital for up to 20 years.