Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) are a group of disorders that signal difficulties with the formation of healthy white and red blood cells or platelets. A diagnosis of an MDS means there’s something amiss in your bone marrow. The Mayo Clinic website describes bone marrow as “spongy material” within your bones where the manufacture of blood cells takes place.
U.S. Statistics Regarding MDS
MDS is diagnosed in over 10,000 people every year in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society’s statistics (Cancer.gov website). The disease isn’t considered common. It’s unusual to be diagnosed with MDS before the age of 60, although it has been diagnosed even in children. Also, men receive a diagnosis of MDS more often than do women.
How is MDS Diagnosed?
Routine blood work will show that red or white cells or platelets are out of the normal range in terms of their numbers. For example, if a normal range of red blood cells is 14-18, a person who may have MDS could have a measure of 11.2, showing a presence of anemia. Such a blood test results signals your physician to investigate further your blood work dysfunction.
Subsequent medical tests might include a bone marrow biopsy.
Do People with MDS Have any Symptoms?
Early in the process of MDS, a person with the disease often doesn’t show any particular signs or symptoms. But as the disease progresses, you might feel tired and experience infections more often. Increased infections are due to the immune system suppression that often occurs with MDS. Also, since a person with MDS will most likely have anemia, you might notice a loss of coloring or paleness of the skin.
Other possible symptoms include becoming winded easily (shortness of breath), bruising more easily than normal and bleeding excessively. Small red areas on the skin known as “petechiae” could be present on your body as MDS progresses, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
What Causes MDS?
Although not a lot is known about the causes of MDS, cancer experts have some clear ideas about them. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website states that exposure to lead and chemicals-in particular, benzene-can cause MDS to develop. Benzene is found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes and industrial emissions. In many situations, physicians are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of a person’s contraction of MDS as exposure to other chemicals can also trigger a slow development of the disease.
Brief Case Summary of a Patient with MDS
Someone close to this writer, let’s call him “Bob,” was diagnosed with MDS nearly 10 years ago. At this time, Bob lives a normal, active life and continues to work full-time. Although Bob’s anemia levels have fluctuated between 10 and 13 over the past 10 years, he reports experiencing no negative symptomatology of MDS. Bob’s energy level is high. He has yearly check-ups with an oncologist who monitors the disease carefully to ensure that if the time comes that Bob needs medication, it can be prescribed.
Center for Disease Control