Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a group of diseases affecting the production of normal blood cells in the bone marrow. In MDS, abnormal bone marrow stem cells (called blast cells) produce increased numbers of immature blood cells that often die prematurely, resulting in lower levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The blood cells that do survive are often of poor quality, are abnormal in shape (dysplastic) and are unable to function properly. This causes a higher susceptibility to infections, fatigue, bruising, and bleeding. Although it is relatively uncommon in the general population, MDS is one of the most common blood disorders in the elderly.

The following factors may increase the risk of developing MDS:

  • Ageing – as age increases, so does the risk of developing genetic mutations that cause this disorder.
  • Exposure to chemicals – especially to high levels of noxious substances such as benzene and petroleum products
  • Smoking – tobacco smoke will increase risk of MDS.
  • Previous cancer treatment – chemotherapy accounts for fewer than 10 percent of all cases of MDS, and radiation therapy will also increase risk.
  • Exposure to radiation – as mentioned, radiation therapy increases risk, as does accidental exposure to high levels of environmental irradiation.
  • Congenital disorders – such as Bloom syndrome, Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, and neurofibromatosis.

Treatment will depend on the type of MDS and the clinical presentation of the disease. In the early stages, there might be very few symptoms and the physician may recommend regular check-ups to carefully monitor the progression of the disease. In general, chemotherapy is used to control the disease when it is transforming into full-blown leukemia. The idea is to reduce the number of blast cells produced in the bone marrow, thus allowing the normal stem cells to make normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

To boost the number of healthy red and white blood cells, a treatment with growth factors can be administered. Erythropoietin may be used to increase the number of red blood cells and reduce the number of blood transfusions needed.


Information taken from Mayo Clinic.