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Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Types of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Several conditions are considered to be types of myelodysplastic syndrome. Factors that determine which type of MDS a person has include:

  • How many types of blood cells are affected. In some types of myelodysplastic syndrome, only one kind of blood cell is abnormal or low in number, such as red blood cells. In other kinds of MDS, more than one type of blood cell is involved.
  • The number of "blasts" in the bone marrow and blood. Blasts are blood cells that didn't mature fully and can't work like they should.
  • Whether the genetic material in the bone marrow is normal. In one type of MDS, the bone marrow is missing a portion of a chromosome.

The type of myelodysplastic syndrome you have affects the progress of the disease. In some cases, people with MDS are unlikely to develop acute myeloid leukemia. With some other types, the chance of leukemia is much higher.

Your doctor can talk to you about the specific type of myelodysplastic syndrome you have and how it's likely to affect your health and your life.

Other factors that affect your prognosis include:

  • Whether or not the myelodysplastic syndrome developed after earlier cancer treatment.
  • How many blasts are found in your bone marrow.

Symptoms of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Often, myelodysplastic syndrome causes no symptoms early in the disease. But its effect on different types of blood cells can cause warning signs that include:

  • Fatigue. This is a common symptom caused by anemia, or lack of sufficient red blood cells.
  • Unusual bleeding.
  • Bruises and tiny red marks under the skin.
  • Paleness.
  • Shortness of breath during physical activity.

Diagnosing Myelodysplastic Syndrome

To diagnose myelodysplastic syndrome, your doctor may do the following:

  • Ask you about your symptoms and history of other health problems.
  • Do a physical exam to check for other possible causes of your symptoms.
  • Take a sample of blood to count the different types of cells and examine the blood cells under a microscope.
  • Take a sample of bone marrow for analysis. This requires inserting a special needle into the hip bone or breastbone to remove the sample.
  • Performing a genetic analysis of cells from the bone marrow.

Treating Myelodysplastic Syndrome

The steps your doctor uses to treat your myelodysplastic syndrome will depend in part on the type of MDS you have and its severity. Treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy drugs that are also used for treating leukemia.
  • Drugs that affect your immune system.
  • Growth factors that encourage bone marrow to make more blood cells.
  • Transfusions of blood.
  • Treatments to reduce iron overload caused by numerous transfusions.
  • Antibiotics to fight infections, if needed.
  • Stem cell transplant. This is the only treatment that's capable of curing myelodysplastic syndrome. It involves using chemotherapy or radiation to destroy cells in your bone marrow, then receiving stem cells from a donor. Stem cells can come from either a bone marrow or stem cells from the blood. These cells then start producing new blood cells in your body.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 19, 2014

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