Basic information

Every 35 seconds, someone somewhere in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. For many people, a stem cell donation from an unrelated donor is their only chance of recovery. However, just 6 out of 10 people in need of a stem cell donation globally are able to find a matching donor. On this page you will find an overview of blood cancer and stem cell donation. Three short videos show you how to register as a potential stem cell donor, what happens after and how stem cell donation works. With your help, we can provide more people in need of a stem cell donation with a second chance at life.

Information on other topics can be found in our FAQ.

Visit the FAQ

Basic information: blood cancer, HLA types and the needle in the haystack

Blood cancer refers to defects in the blood-forming (hematopoietic) system. These defects stop the normal process of maturation and natural cell death, leading to the formation of immature or dysfunctional blood cells. These blood cells, which can no longer carry out normal cell functions and no longer die a natural death, are known as cancer cells. They enter the bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably, crowding out the healthy cells. This means the blood can no longer perform its tasks, such as oxygen transportation and defense against germs.

Blood cancer

Depending on the level of maturity of the blood cells in which these malignant changes take places, doctors distinguish between three main groups of blood cancer: leukemia, multiple myeloma and malignant lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).

The role of HLA types

In order for a blood stem cell donor to be a suitable match, at least ten out of 12 relevant HLA characteristics must match with the patient. HLA characteristics are markers on the surface of the body’s cells, which differentiate between the body’s own immune system and foreign tissue.

The needle in the haystack

HLA characteristics are inherited, meaning they are passed from parents to children. However, not everyone in need of a stem cell is able to find a suitable donor within their family, meaning they have to search for an unrelated donor in the worldwide pool of available donors.


“Blood cancer” is therefore a general description for various malignant diseases of the hematopoietic system. Cancer patients suffering from these diseases can be treated with a stem cell transplant from a healthy, matching donor. The transplant of healthy stem cells helps the patient’s bone marrow to regenerate and start producing healthy blood cells again. Stem cell transplantation is therefore an important treatment and for many blood cancer patients, their only chance of survival.


There are several thousand different combinations of HLA characteristics, some of which are extremely rare. Finding a suitable match is therefore very complicated, but very important – since only the closest match of HLA characteristics between the donor and the patient will minimize the risk of post-transplant complications.

By transferring stem cells, the recipient has the opportunity to develop a new and healthy blood-forming system. We currently know of six HLA characteristics which are relevant for a stem cell donation: HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C, HLA-DRB1, HLA-DQB1 and HLA-DPB1. These are inherited from both the father and the mother, resulting in a total of 12 relevant HLA characteristics.


The likelihood of finding a matching donor outside the family is relatively low – globally, 4 out of 10 people are still unable to find a match. In order to work towards our goal of finding a matching donor for everyone in need of a stem cell donation, DKMS registers as many potential stem cell donors as possible. We want to be able to give everyone in need of a stem cell donation a second chance at life.

How we can defeat blood cancer together

DKMS has been registering potential stem cell donors since 1991. So far, we have 7.9 million potential lifesavers registered in our database, ready to join us in the fight against blood cancer. However, 4 out of 10 people globally are still unable to find a matching donor. In order for a stem cell donation to have the greatest chance of success, the tissue type of the donor must match those of the recipient almost exactly. You could be the perfect match for someone in need of a stem cell donation anywhere in the world. Our videos answer the most frequently asked questions about both registration and stem cell donation. Find out how easy it is to register with DKMS. If you are asked to donate your stem cells, you could give someone a second chance at life.

Register as a stem cell donor

DKMS : How to become a stem cell donor?

Registration as a potential stem cell donor is easy. In order to do so, simply request a registration kit online to complete at home. You will receive a kit in the post containing cheek swabs, instructions and a consent form to sign. Use these swabs to take a tissue sample from the inside of your cheeks, before sending it back to us together with the signed documents. Next, our laboratory will use your cheek swabs to analyze your tissue type, in order to determine if you are a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation.

What happens after registration?

DKMS: What happens after registration?

In the laboratory, your sample is analysed to determine your tissue type. After your sample has been typed, your data is stored confidentially and made available in the global search for potential stem cell donors. We will send you a welcome email and a donor card – which you can provide to us for things like changing address. You can now be found as a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation anywhere in the world.

How a stem cell donation works

DKMS: What happens if you are eligible as a stem cell donor?

The blood stem cell collection will take place at a specialist collection centre, which has been certified by DKMS. All expenses will be covered and DKMS is there to help every step of the way. In around 80% of cases, the donation is carried out via peripheral blood stem cell collection. In around 20% of cases, bone marrow collection is used to collect blood stem cells from the bone marrow at the back of the pelvic bone.

Five steps to donating stem cells – overview

1. Registration

Als Stammzellspender registrieren

A cheek swab is used in order to analyze tour tissue type. This can be completed at home by requesting a registration kit here on our website.

2. Testing for tissue types

Wenn Ihre Gewebemerkmale zu denen eines Patienten passen, wird dies durch eine Blutprobe von Ihnen nochmals bestätigt und weitere Blutwerte werden ermittelt.

If you are found to be a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation, this will be confirmed using a blood sample.

3. Health check

Nach einem gründlichen Gesundheitscheck und der Aufklärung durch einen Arzt steht der Stammzellspende nichts mehr im Wege – Ihr endgültiges Einverständnis vorausgesetzt.

A comprehensive health check will be completed in order to ensure you are ready to donate your stem cells and give someone a second chance at life.

4.1 Peripheral stem cell donation

Das Verfahren ist bei 80% der Spenden ähnlich einer Blutplasmaspende.

This method is used in around 80% of cases and is similar to blood plasma donation.

4.2 Bone marrow donation

Bei 20% aller Spenden wird unter Vollnarkose Knochenmark aus dem Beckenkamm entnommen.

In around 20% of cases, bone marrow is collected from the back of the pelvic bone under general anesthetic.

Stem cell transplantation

Wie bei einer Bluttransfusion werden die Stammzellen nun transplantiert.

The donated stem cells are then transplanted to the recipient, using a method similar to blood transfusion. They find their way to the bone cavities and being to form new, healthy blood cells.

How your monetary donation can also save lives

DKMS is a charitable organisation. Initially we were supported financially by German Cancer Aid and the German Federal Ministry of Health. Since 1994 we have been financing ourselves by means of monetary donations from private individuals and companies, as well as expenses refunded by health insurance companies for maintaining our database.

Registration costs us money

To be specific, we need financial help to register new donors in our database. Determining the tissue types of each donor in our laboratory costs money.

Fourty euros for a chance to live

Every euro counts in the fight against blood cancer because the registration of a new donor alone costs DKMS 35 Euro. However, not everyone can support us with a monetary donation when they register.

Maintaining our database

We can only sustain our crucial community if private individuals and companies support us financially. Every euro counts in the fight against blood cancer!

Other ways to help

There are many ways to support our fight against blood cancer.

Distribute our information material among your friends (german).

Your money donation can save lives.

Organize a donor drive with us in your school, association, or company. Send us an e-mail!