Non-white patients suffer from lack of marrow, stem cell donors

There are concerns a dramatic shortage of stem cell and bone marrow donors from non-Caucasian ethnic groups is putting lives in jeopardy.

And experts are trying to fix the problem by tackling the biggest issue lack of awareness.

For Angela Yee Hamshaw, news of her sister's leukemia diagnosis was devastating.

Doctors could not find a bone marrow match in the family for 37-year-old Audrey Popowich. So as here chemotherapy began, so too did the search for a donor.

But because of her Chinese heritage, Popowich was warned that finding a match could prove extremely difficult.

"It can be very difficult. Within specific ethnic groups we do struggle to find donors, said Cassandra DeLuca, a coordinator with Canadian Blood Services.

About 75 per cent of the 330,000 registered Canadian donors are Caucasian. Chinese Canadians make up about six per cent, while South Asian donors account for less than three per cent of the supply.

"It comes from general awareness. Within certain communities there is more awareness than others, DeLuca said.

The huge gap is frustrating, said Dr. Mona Shafey, who works at the Alberta Bone Marrow Transplant program.

They're facing life and death here, she said.

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Non-white patients suffer from lack of marrow, stem cell donors

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