June 26, 2000 -- Cord blood banking has been available for only five years, and parents who hear about it may never have thought deeply about it before. Yet, in its few years of existence, this form of "biological insurance," has saved lives and provided peace of mind to hundreds of parents.
Still, whether you should bank your baby's cord blood privately is a matter of personal choice. Here are a few things to consider when making this decision:
- Examine your family health history. Women who are candidates for prenatal genetic screening need to look at their family health history over generations to help assess the risk of their baby's developing various genetic diseases. If there appears to be no history of either genetic illness or childhood cancers, then you may not need to save your baby's cord blood.
- If your family does have genetic illness or childhood cancers in its background, consider the health of your other children. Parents who privately bank their baby's cord blood are not doing so for the child being born; if that child develops a cancer or genetic illness, the illness is likely to be present in the cord blood. The banked blood is for the child's siblings or children yet to come. If you have one child who has had cancer or a genetic illness, and you're having a second child, consider banking your baby's cord blood.
- Understand the difference between the current medical use of cord blood stem cells and the promise such cells hold in the future. Private banks often say stem cells may help an adult relative with cancer, but, in fact, cord blood may not yield enough of them to treat an adult. This question, among others, is what researchers are now trying to answer.
Kristi Coale is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who specializes in science and medical issues.