Myelodysplastic Syndromes: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) are the 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. 

Risks

Several things have been identified as risk factors:

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

Screening

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:

  • Low red blood cell count which can make a person tired, pale, have chest pain, and dizziness.
  • Low platelet count that can lead to bleeding, petechiae (small red or purple spots under the skin), and bruising.
  • Low white blood cell count which can lead to infections.

Diagnosis of MDS

Your provider will ask you about your medical history and perform a complete 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 different types of MDS and these tests will help determine the type you have.

Treatment

The goal of treating MDS is to manage symptoms of low blood cell counts and to keep the disease from becoming leukemia. Because of this, there are a number of treatments. 

  • Red blood cell and platelet transfusions.
  • Medications called growth factors that can help maintain some blood counts without transfusions.
  • Immune suppressants.
  • 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.

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