Myelodysplastic Syndromes: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Content Contributor: Allyson Distel, MPH
Last Reviewed: March 25, 2024

Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) are diseases caused when the body does not make enough blood cells. The blood cells do not grow the way that they should. Sometimes MDS can turn into leukemia.


There are many risk factors such as: 

  • Chemotherapy and/or radiation that is used to treat a first cancer diagnosis.
  • Exposure to chemicals like pesticides, benzene, petroleum, and tobacco smoke.
  • Genetic abnormalities.


Currently, there are no screening tests for MDS.

Signs of MDS

Often, there are no signs of MDS but there will be a change in lab values. If a person is having signs of MDS it is related to low blood counts and can include:

Diagnosis of MDS

Your provider will ask you about your medical history and do a physical exam. Blood tests including a complete blood count and peripheral blood smear will be done to check your blood counts. A bone marrow biopsy will also be done. There are many types of MDS and these tests will help you find out the type you have.


The goal of treating MDS is to help manage symptoms of low blood cell counts and to keep the disease from becoming leukemia. There are some treatments for MDS, such as:

  • Red blood cell and platelet transfusions.
  • Medications called growth factors that help maintain some blood counts without transfusions.
  • Immune suppressant medications.
  • Chemotherapy, both in low and high doses.
  • Stem cell transplant.

This article is a basic guide to MDS. You can learn more about your type of MDS and treatment by using the link below.

Myelodysplastic Syndrome: Staging and Treatment

National Cancer Institute (2023). Myelodysplastic Syndromes Treatment.

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