Blood transfusion during heart surgery is indeed safe. Worries over cancer risk are unfounded, say Dr Bill Weightman and Dr Mark Newman of the University of Western Australia who studied the health of more than 1,800 people 12 years after cardiac surgery.
Their study, entitled "Moderate Exposure to Allogeneic Blood Products is Not Associated with Reduced Long-Term Survival After Surgery for Coronary Artery Disease", is to be published in the prestigious American Society of Anaesthesiologists' journal, Anaesthesiology
"We found that people who had general health issues before surgery were more likely to get a transfusion. However, when we took this into account, we found that transfusion of blood at the time of surgery did not have any long-term effect on the recipients," Dr Weightman said.
"We didn't enter patients into the study until after they had recovered from the acute effects of surgery. We studied patients who had been transfused a moderate quantity of blood as part of a conservative treatment strategy. Eight-five per cent of the patients were still alive at the end of the study."
The study was carried out when blood products were not routinely depleted of white-cells before transfusion.
"It is believed that white-cell depletion of blood products, as practised in all developed countries, has increased their safety," he said.
The study's other authors are Dr Neville Gibbs, Mr Matthew Sheminant and Ms Dianne Grey.