Background: Transfusion safety rests heavily on the health of blood donors. Although they are perceived as being healthier than average, little is known about their long-term disease patterns and to which extent the blood banks' continuous efforts to optimize donor selection has resulted in improvements. Mortality and cancer incidence among blood donors in Sweden and Denmark was investigated.
Study design and methods: All computerized blood bank databases were compiled into one database, which was linked to national population and health data registers. With a retrospective cohort study design, 1,110,329 blood donors were followed for up to 35 years from first computer-registered blood donation to death, emigration, or December 31, 2002. Standardized mortality and incidence ratios expressed relative risk of death and cancer comparing blood donors to the general population.
Results: Blood donors had an overall mortality 30 percent lower (99% confidence interval [CI] 29%-31%) and cancer incidence 4 percent lower (99% CI 2%-5%) than the background population. Mortality rates and cancer incidence were lowest for outcomes that are recognized as being related to lifestyle factors such as smoking or to the selection criteria for blood donation. Blood donors recruited in more recent years exhibited a lower relative mortality than those who started earlier.
Conclusion: Blood donors enjoy better than average health. Explicit and informal requirements for blood donation in Scandinavia, although mostly of a simple nature, have successfully refined the selection of a particularly healthy subpopulation.