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Myelodysplastic syndromes Myelodysplastic syndromes
Myelodysplastic syndromes, more commonly refered to as MDS, are a group of disorders characterized by mal formed,and malfunctioning blood cells. Previously MDS was... Myelodysplastic syndromes

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Myelodysplastic syndromes, more commonly refered to as MDS, are a group of disorders characterized by mal formed,and malfunctioning blood cells.  Previously MDS was refered to a pre-leukemia because some people with MDS go on to develop acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).  However, research has shown that most people diagnosed with MDS do not develop AML so it has been classified as a separate form of cancer. It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 to 15,000 new cases of MDS are diagnosed annually in the US with approximately 1000 of those cases being diagnosed in children.  It has now passed
chronic lymphocytic leukemia  and is now the most commonly diagnosed form of leukemia in the Western Hemisphere.  MDS can occur at any age, however it is most common in people over the age of 70years with approximately 80% of cases diagnosed in people over 60 years of age.

Myelodysplastic syndromes mostly effect the bone marrow.

MDS is more commonly diagnosed in men than women and can be found worldwide.  The incidence of MDS has been increasing in recent years, some believe it’s because of an aging population while others belileve it’s because there are more people recieving chemotherapy for other forms of cancer. In MDS the soft spongy tissue found in the center of certain bones
known as bone marrow  malfunctions.  The bone marrow produces the three different types of blood cells,  red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  As is the case with almost all forms of cancer the exact mechanism that causes the malfunction is unknown.  However, there are factors that have been identified as increasing your risk for developing MDS.  Age is the most significant risk factor with most cases of MDS being diagnosed in people over 60 years of age.  Another common factor in people diagnosed with MDS is a previous history of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat a previous cancer. Exposure to certain chemicals and heavy metals also increases your risk for develooping MDS.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the group of MDS’s into 7 types.  The type of MDS depends on the type of cell that’s affected and the stage in which it is affected.  The symptoms of MDS depend on the type of MDS, in other words wich cells are affected, and the severity or stage in which MDS manifests.  Unfortunately MDS’s frequently do not present any symptoms and those that do present are usually mild and the same as other more common illnesses.  However, as MDS progresses you may feel increasing fatigue, and shortness of breath, you may look pale and find that you bruise or bleed easily.
Some people notice tiny red spots under their skin and others have frequent infections.
If you have previously been treated with cancer it’s important to keep all your follow up appointments and blood tests.  Your Dr will be able to detect a change in your blood counts.  If you are over 60 years of age it’s important to get that annual check up.  The earllier that MDS is detected the more effectively it can be managed.
To date there is no cure for MDS and most treatments are aimed at managing the symptoms and maintaining quality of life.  There are a variety of medications that can be used to increase the number of healthy blood cells produced by your body.  More recently treatment includes bone marrow transplants.  Unfortunately few people are candidates for bone marrow transplant surgery and for some finding a match is extremely difficult and the proceedur can be risky for some.
It’s important not to make any decisions without information as medical science and research advances in treatment options also change.  There are numerous organizations and support groups that can help you in many ways including providing information of the most recent treatments available.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at