Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of disorders that occur when there is a disruption in the bone marrow’s ability to produce healthy blood cells. It is a rare condition that most often affects older adults. In some cases, there is a chance that MDS could eventually progress to leukemia.
For that reason, it is sometimes called preleukemia. Some forms of the disorder have no obvious cause, while others appear as a response to chemical exposure or cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In addition, subjection to heavy metals increases the risk of experiencing MDS.
There are numerous forms of the disorder, and classification depends on what blood cells are affected and exactly how they are changed. Medical professionals will use a variety of tests to determine the exact type, including patient history, physical exams, complete blood count, cytogenic analysis, peripheral blood smear, bone marrow biopsy, and blood chemistry studies.
During the early stages of the disease, some patients experience no symptoms. MDS is often discovered through routine blood tests that show a reduced blood cell count. Symptoms depend on which blood cell is being produced improperly.
Generally, myelodysplastic syndrome is caused by the production of abnormal or defective blood cells. When this occurs, the affected cells die in the bone marrow or shortly after being dumped into the blood stream, ultimately creating a condition which will manifest itself by causing such symptoms as anemia, infections, and excess bleeding.
There are two categories of myelodysplastic syndrome, based on cause. The first category is that of de novo myelodysplastic syndrome and this condition is brought about by an unknown cause. Surprisingly, de novo myelodysplastic syndrome is more easily treated than the second form of the disease.
The second group involves myelodysplastic syndrome that is caused by exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation. These secondary myelodysplastic syndromes are more difficult to treat and may be more severe, based upon the extent and duration of the exposure.
Of the various treatment options available, standard therapies generally include those that slow the progression of the disease and supportive care with antibiotics for infection, agents that increase red blood cell count, or transfusion. Depending on the type of MDS, a patient may also require other medications or stem cell transplantation.
Some forms of the condition have no standard treatment, so patients may have to try various options to find what works. If everything else fails, they may benefit from taking part in clinical trials.
Smoking is considered a primary causal factor of myelodysplastic syndrome, so cessation can significantly decrease one’s chances of contracting the condition. Additionally, radiation therapy and other cancer treatments can increase the risk of developing a secondary myelodysplastic syndrome. While there’s little a cancer patient can do to reduce this risk, doctors are continuously searching for alternative treatments that won’t instigate a case of secondary myelodysplastic syndrome as it battles the cancer.
Outside of medical treatment, individuals should limit their exposure to cancer-causing industrial chemicals, such as benzene, as much as possible. Pesticides represent another chemical group responsible for myelodysplastic syndrome, so doctors urge wearing proper safety equipment while handling them.
While exposure to occupational and environmental radiation and chemicals represents a small portion of all myelodysplastic syndrome cases, anything the individual can do to reduce health risks is certainly beneficial. As most cases of myelodysplastic syndrome affect seniors, age 60 and over, there’s little else one can do to reduce risk factors for contracting the development of either primary or secondary myelodysplastic syndromes.