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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Myelodysplastic syndromes

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of closely related diseases in which the bone marrow produces too few functioning red blood cells (which carry oxygen), white blood cells (which fight infection), or platelets(which prevent or stop bleeding), or any combination of the three. The different types of myelodysplastic syndromes are diagnosed based on certain changes in the blood cells and bone marrow. The cells in the blood and bone marrow (also called myelo) usually look abnormal (or dysplastic), hence the name myelodysplastic syndromes.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 13,000 people a year are diagnosed with MDS. In the past, MDS was commonly referred to as a preleukemic condition (and it is still sometimes called preleukemia) because some people with MDS develop acute leukemia as a complication of the disease. However, most patients with MDS will never develop acute leukemia.
By convention, MDS are reclassified as acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with myelodysplastic features when blood or bone marrow blasts reach or exceed 20%.

Common MDS symptoms

A shortage of red blood cells (anemia) can lead to excessive tiredness, shortness of breath, and pale skin. A shortage of normal white blood cells (leukopenia) can lead to a susceptibility to frequent or severe infections, either viral or bacterial, especially in the lungs, throat, sinuses and skin, as well as mouth or ear infections or periodontal disease.

A shortage of blood platelets can lead to easy bruising and bleeding. Some people notice frequent or severe nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums. Rashes and pinpoint red spots on the skin are also symptoms of a shortage of blood platelets.

Other symptoms can include having skin that is paler than usual, weakness, weight loss, fever, and loss of appetite. Some patients have no symptoms.

NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Advanced treatments for myelodysplastic syndromes

Common myelodysplastic syndrome treatments include:

Supportive therapy: Supportive care is given to reduce the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care may include:

Blood transfusion: this is a method of giving red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets to replace blood cells destroyed by disease or treatment.

Growth factors: Giving extra doses of hormone-like substances that stimulate bone marrow to produce blood cells, called hematopoietic growth factors, can help the blood counts of MDS patients to become more normal.


Last Revised: 02/02/2017

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Infographic: What is leukemia?


Leukemia is the ninth most common cancer. It occurs when cells in the bone marrow or blood become defective and multiply uncontrollably.