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Banking Your Baby's Cord Blood

The pros and cons, costs, and reasons behind saving your newborn's umbilical cord blood.
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Why Is Cord Blood Worth Saving? continued...

Some people (usually children and, sometimes, adults of small size) with certain diseases -- like leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and others - can be injected with these HPC stem cells to replenish their blood supply with new, healthy cells. The stem cells can also help the body recover from some cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.

No one debates that cord blood cells can be lifesaving. "Cord blood is a proven, effective source of blood-forming stem cells for people with certain diseases," Feig tells WebMD.

According to the Institute of Medicine, HPCs have saved more than 20,000 lives in the U.S. in recent years, although the majority are from bone marrow transplants rather than cord blood. There have only been about 6,000 reported cord blood transplants.

The Odds Umbilical Cord Blood Will be Used

Cord blood banking has become a potentially lucrative business. More than twenty private banks operate in the U.S., the oldest since 1992. Expectant couples see ads for stem cell banking everywhere -- in parenting magazines, in doctor's offices, on television, on the Web, and in their own mailboxes.

"I don't think there's an obstetrician in the country who doesn't have patients asking about it," says Jeffrey Ecker, MD, a high-risk obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I get the sense that there's more marketing and publicity than ever."

But according to most experts, the odds that a child will ever use his or her own stored cord blood are small. According to a 2005 editorial in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the chances are about one in 2,700.

Other estimates range widely. Advertising from one private cord blood bank puts the odds at 1 in 27. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests it's more like 1 in 200,000. Indisputably, there are very few documented cases of a child receiving his or her own banked cord blood as treatment. The Institute of Medicine says that there may only have been as few as 14 total of these procedures ever performed. One reason is that the conditions cord blood stem cells could help treat just aren't that common. "The diseases in children that we can treat with their own cord blood stem cells are really rare," says Feig.

While the odds of ever using privately banked cord blood may be small, the costs aren't. Prices vary, but banks might charge up to $1,800 for the initial processing. After that, they charge an annual storage fee of roughly $100. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, properly stored cord blood should be good for up to about 10 years; after that point, researchers aren't sure how long the cells will last.

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