Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are diseases of the blood and bone marrow in which blood stem cells do not mature into healthy red or white blood cells, or platelets. The immature blood cells, called blasts, do not function normally and either die in the bone marrow or soon after they enter the blood, causing a lack of healthy cells and potential health complications.

There are several types of MDS, classified according to the cell shape, cause and clinical presentation :

  • Refractory anemia
  • Refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts
  • Refractory anemia with excess blasts
  • Refractory anemia with excess blasts in transformation
  • Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with an isolated del(5q) chromosome abnormality
  • Unclassifiable myelodysplastic syndrome

Our patients with MDS are treated at the Moores Leukemia and Lymphoma Unit.

You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on MDS symptoms and risks, diagnosis, and treatment.


MDS often do not cause early symptoms and other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding
  • Fever or frequent infections


Age and past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy affect the risk of developing a myelodysplastic syndrome.

Additional risk factors include:

  • Being male or white
  • Being older than 60
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including tobacco smoke, pesticides and solvents such as benzene
  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury or lead.

Following a physical exam and medical history, your doctor will order blood tests to assess your red and white blood cells, as well as the amount of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen, in the red blood cells. Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy may also be performed. Using this information, your physician will be able to determine the type and stage of MDS.

The stages of myelodysplastic syndromes are:

  • De novo myelodysplastic syndromes, which develop without any known cause
  • Secondary myelodysplastic syndromes, which can develop after you’ve been treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other diseases or after being exposed to radiation or certain chemicals
  • Previously treated myelodysplastic syndromes, which are MDS that have been treated but have not responded
Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by MDS or its treatment, and may include:
  • Transfusion therapy (blood transfusion)
  • Growth factor therapy to increase red blood cell production (usually erythropoietin or granulocyte colony-stimulating factor)
  • Drug therapy, which may include antibiotics to fight infections or medications to help reduce the need for transfusions

Patients may also receive chemotherapy or blood and marrow transplantation (BMT).