Banking Umbilical Cord Blood: Are the Benefits Worth It?

by Lauren Taylor from In The Cloud Copy

Having a child, especially for the first time, comes with so many unknowns and questions. What stroller to buy, what to name the child, will you send them to daycare, and will you bank their umbilical cord blood? The last question is not one that comes straight to the top of expectant parent’s minds most of the time.

What Is Umbilical Cord Blood Used For?

Umbilical cord blood is the blood that is contained in the baby’s umbilical cord while they are connected to the mother inside the womb. Umbilical cord blood can be used to treat certain types of cancers, some blood diseases, and immune system disorders. The fluid is very easy to collect at no pain to the baby or mother. The fluid contained in the umbilical cord contains 10 times more stem cells than if the fluid was collected from bone marrow. But is it really as simple and beneficial as it sounds?

While the collection of the blood is simple and painless, the storage of the blood can be costly. The cost for an upfront enrollment fee to bank your child’s umbilical cord blood is usually somewhere in the range of $1,500 to $3,500. After the enrollment fee, you must pay a yearly storage fee for 18 to 20 years, usually costing about $5,000 over the lifetime of the blood storage. These are not small numbers, so a parent must decide if those costs are worth storing something that you very well may never touch.

The Downfalls of Cord Blood Collection

While it is absolutely tragic for a child to be diagnosed with cancer, the odds of that happening are extremely rare. The incidence rate of a child developing one of the following cancers before their 19th birthday is 12 per 100,000: leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma, brain tumors, and sarcomas. Further, the odds of the child requiring an allogeneic transplant, or using stem cells genetically matching theirs, prior to the age of 20, is 0.04%, similar to the lifetime chance of getting struck by lightning.

Is Cord Blood Really Pure?

People automatically assume that cord blood from a newborn baby is free from any impurities, but studies have found otherwise. Robert Guthrie, a microbiologist in the 1950s, developed what are now called Guthrie cards. These cards store a small drop of baby’s blood at birth that is tested for a slew of metabolic conditions such as PKU and cystic fibrosis.

Scientists studying children with acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) collected their Guthrie cards, which the hospitals had stored for years. They used a specific lab test on the dried blood on the cards and found that all three children with AML had a chromosome abnormality, found in the cord blood all of those years later. A few years later, the same scientists conducted the same study on 12 patients with AML and found that 9 of them had chromosomal evidence of leukemia in the cord blood tested from their Guthrie card. Basically, the leukemia was there from birth, it just waited years to show up. If their cord had been stored for a potential stem cell transplant years later, they would have been infused with stem cells already corrupted by leukemia.

If these cells are already present at birth, is it worth it to bank cord blood? The answer remains up to the parents. The lifetime risk is minimal but devastating if your child is struck by a cancer diagnosis. Hopefully more research in the future will pave the way for further answers to some of these tough questions parents often face.

To learn more about cord blood testing and banking, click here.

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