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Myelodysplastic Syndromes

(MDS; Myelodysplasia; Preleukemia; Smoldering Leukemia; Subacute Leukemia)

Definition

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a rare group of bone marrow diseases. Bone marrow is tissue found in the bones. It creates blood cells. In MDS, the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells. It is a form of blood cancer.

Some types of MDS are more serious than others. It can lead to acute myeloid leukemia.

Active Bone Marrow Sites in Adults
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Causes

The cause of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is unknown.

Risk Factors

MDS is more common in older adults and men. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family members with MDS, Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), or aplastic anemia
  • Certain genetic syndromes, such as:
    • Down syndrome
    • Trisomy 8
    • Fanconi anemia
    • Congenital neutropenia
    • Shwachman-Diamond syndrome
    • Familial platelet disorders
  • Smoking
  • Previous radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Exposure to large amounts of radiation
  • Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene
  • Exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers

Symptoms

There may be no symptoms in the early stages of MDS. When symptoms occur, they may be:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Pale skin
  • Problems breathing or cough
  • Loss of hunger or weight
  • Fever
  • Easy bleeding and bruising

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to check blood cell counts and look for abnormal blood cells
  • Bone marrow biopsy—a sample of bone marrow is taken and tested for MDS
  • Other tests to rule out other conditions.

Treatment

Treatment for MDS depends on the type and stage of the disease and the person's age and health. Options may include:

  • Blood transfusion—getting blood cells, blood, and other parts of blood through a vein
  • Iron chelation therapy, after a blood transfusion—to remove excess iron from the blood
  • Antibiotics—to fight infection
  • Growth factors—drugs to help the bone marrow produce cells
  • Chemotherapy by mouth, injection, or IV—to kill cancer cells
  • Stem cell transplant—healthy immature blood cells given from a donor

Prevention

There are no guidelines to reduce the risk of MDS.

RESOURCES:

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
http://www.lls.org

MDS Foundation
https://www.mds-foundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Aplastic Anemia & Myelodysplasia Association of Canada
http://www.aamac.ca

Neutropenia Support Association
http://www.neutropenia.ca

REFERENCES:

Frequently asked questions about MDS. The Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation website. Available at: https://www.mds-foundation.org/pdf/CEL411%20Factsht%20v8.pdf. Accessed March 24, 2021.

General information about myelodysplastic syndromes. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/myeloproliferative/patient/myelodysplastic-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 24, 2021.

Myelodysplastic syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/myelodysplastic-syndrome. Accessed March 24, 2021.

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/myelodysplastic-syndrome-mds . Accessed March 24, 2021.

Myelodysplastic syndromes. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/myelodysplastic-syndrome.html. Accessed March 24, 2021.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/24/2021