Myelodysplastic syndromes are diseases in which your bone marrow does not function normally and not enough normal blood cells are made.

What Goes Wrong?

Normally, bone marrow cells called blasts develop and mature into several different types of blood cells that have specific jobs in your body – red cells carry oxygen, white cells fight infection, and platelets stop bleeding. With MDS, these blast cells do not mature and are unable to function properly.

How Is MDS Diagnosed?

You may have had no symptoms. A routine blood test during a physical exam might have been the first clue. If there are symptoms, the most common one is being extremely tired, a symptom of anemia, (too few mature red blood cells). An infection, often a sign of too few white blood cells in the blood, sometimes is a sign. If the number of platelets is lower than normal, you may bleed or bruise more easily. If any of these signs are present, blood tests are ordered. If the results of the blood test are not normal, the doctor may do a bone marrow biopsy to determine the kind of disease and plan the best treatment.

What’s the Cause of MDS?

Myelodysplastic syndromes occur most often in older people, but they can occur in younger people as well. Myelodysplasia may develop following treatment with drugs or radiation therapy for other diseases, or it may develop without any known cause. The one known link is exposure to benzene. MDS is sometimes called “pre-leukemia” or “smoldering” leukemia because it can change into acute myeloid leukemia (AML), requiring more aggressive treatment.

Types of MDS…

There are five types of myelodysplastic syndromes:

  1. refractory anemia (RA)
  2. refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts (RARS)
  3. refractory anemia with excess blasts (RAEB)
  4. refractory anemia with excess blasts in transformation (RAEB -T)
  5. chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CML).

How is MDS Treated?

MDS is very rare in young people, and teens are often treated differently for MDS than older adults. The most common treatment for teens with MDS includes chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant. Chemotherapy treatment for MDS often resembles that for AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia). Bone marrow transplantation, using high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, is also used for teens with MDS if there is a suitable donor. The donor may be a brother, sister, or other relative, or another person not related. A bone marrow transplant using marrow from a relative or person not related to the patient is called an allogeneic bone marrow transplant. New clinical trials are being investigated that will hopefully improve treatment for MDS. Talk with your doctor for more information about trials.

What’s Next?

The road with MDS might be a tough one. You will need to muster all your energy to stay focused on getting well. Take one step at a time and stay positive. New discoveries every day are improving the chances of your getting well.