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The length of time that blood is stored prior to a blood transfusion, within normal ranges, does not appear to affect mortality among patients requiring transfusions. These results were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Many patients with cancer require red blood cell transfusions, either in response to the disease itself, or to replenish these cell levels after treatment. Following the collection of blood from a donor or patient, it is stored according to specifications prior to a transfusion.

Although blood cannot safely be stored indefinitely prior to a transfusion, the duration of its storage and its possible impact on outcomes was recently evaluated through a large clinical trial including 6 hospitals in 4 countries. The trial included nearly 21,000 patients with either A or O blood types who received a red blood cell transfusion. One group of patients received blood with a median storage time of 13.0 days prior to transfusion (short-term storage group), and a second group of patients received blood with a median storage time of 23.6 days prior to transfusion (long-term storage group).

  • Overall, there were no differences in rates of mortality following the transfusion between patients in the short-term or long-term storage groups.
  • Although this trial was designed to evaluate the general population of patients in a hospital setting, one pre-specified high-risk group was cancer patients. There were also no differences in rates of mortality following a transfusion between cancer patients in the short-term or long-term storage groups.

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The researchers concluded that “there was no significant difference in the rate of death among those who underwent transfusion with the freshest available blood and those who underwent transfusion according to the standard practice of transfusing the oldest available blood.” These results confirm prior results evaluating cancer patients receiving transfusions with differing storage times of blood.

Reference: Heddle N, Cook R, Arnold D, et al. Effect of short-term vs. long-term blood storage on mortality after transfusion. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016; 2016; 375:1937-1945. Available at: . Accessed November 21, 2016.

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