What are myelodysplastic syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes are cancers where the blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature properly. These immature blood cells do not work correctly and often die before they should. This can lead to a shortage of one or more types of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

All of the blood cell types can be affected by myelodysplastic syndromes, but red blood cells are most often affected. There are several types of myelodysplastic syndromes. They are grouped by the type of blood cells they affect as well as other changes in the cells.  

What are the symptoms of myelodysplastic syndromes?

Many people have no symptoms in the early stages of myelodysplastic syndromes. When they do appear, symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Pale skin
  • Tiny red spots just under the skin
  • Bruising or bleeding easily

How are myelodysplastic syndromes treated?

Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes will vary depending on the specific type you have. Most treatments are aimed at reducing symptoms and complications or slowing the progression of the disease. These treatments may include:

  • Blood transfusions to replace damaged cells and control symptoms.
  • Medicines to increase the number of blood cells or help them grow.
  • Medicines to suppress the immune system.
  • Chemotherapy combined with a bone marrow transplant to kill the cancer cells and replace them with healthy cells. 

What are the risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes?

Risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes include:

  • Previous radiation therapy or chemotherapy treatment
  • Exposure to certain chemicals that may cause cancer
  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as lead or mercury