December 8, 2021

Treating children with cancer requires a strong blood supply; donations critically needed

The ongoing national blood shortage has serious implications for young cancer patients, says Dan Benedetti, MD, MA, assistant professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“I am a pediatric cancer specialist who takes care of infants, toddlers and school-aged children with solid tumors of their abdominal organs. To cure these aggressive cancers, my patients require intensive chemotherapy as well as major abdominal surgeries,” Benedetti says. “These life-saving surgical procedures are often all-day operations involving significant blood loss, so my patients frequently require multiple blood and platelet transfusions.”

VUMC is experiencing severe shortages of O positive and O negative red blood cell units, which are expected to continue. To address this, the VUMC Blood Bank is auditing every order of O positive and O negative red blood cells for appropriateness and canceling or limiting orders that don’t meet VUMC guidelines, among other measures.

“A large group of my patients with neuroblastoma also require two rounds of high-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue (AKA stem cell transplant), involving two 4-6 week hospitalizations during which their bone marrow is wiped out, so they do not make any red blood cells or platelets for weeks,” Benedetti explains. “They depend on frequent transfusions to sustain them until the stem cells that are reinfused into them can repopulate their bone marrow and produce these blood cells again. The complicated treatments needed to cure my young patients are only possible when we have a regular and robust blood supply.”

The American Red Cross holds frequent blood drives on VUMC’s 21st Avenue and One Hundred Oaks campuses. Employees and members of the public are encouraged to donate. You can sign up for an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and donate at a time convenient with your schedule at

“Please donate so that no child with cancer has to have their curative treatment altered or delayed due to inadequate supply of blood products,” Benedetti says.