About the disease
Myelodysplastic syndrome is a disorder that restricts the production of blood cells in the bone marrow. Also known as bone marrow failure, this condition is recognised as a type of cancer and is more common among people who are over 65 years of age. This condition is relatively rare, with about 12,000 people being diagnosed with it in the USA annually. Manifestations of myelodysplastic syndrome depend on its severity. In mild cases, there may be no symptoms. In severe cases, however, the sufferer is likely to experience noticeable fatigue and shortness of breath.
The exact cause of myelodysplastic syndrome has not yet been identified. People who have a genetic predisposition for the condition become more at risk when they reach the age of 65 and above. Previous cancer treatment involving chemotherapy and radiotherapy (which aims to kill cancerous cells) can affect the function of the bone marrow in the longer run. Congenital blood disorders, such as hemoglobinuria, can contribute to the development of myelodysplastic syndrome and children with Down syndrome or other congenital disorders are also at greater risk.
- Easy bruising
- Strange red marks under the skin
- Shortness of breath
- During a general examination, the doctor will ask the patient about their symptoms and whether they have ever been diagnosed with anemia, as severe cases have similar symptoms to myelodysplastic syndrome.
- The doctor will examine the patient’s skin and ask if they have noticed any abnormal bleeding or bruising lately.
- A complete blood count is performed, to check for insufficiency of red and white blood cells and platelets.
- A bone marrow aspiration (or biopsy) is performed, to allow the doctor to examine a sample of bone marrow under a microscope. This can rule out other conditions, such as leukemia.
- Chemotherapy and immunotherapy can help to rebuild the blood count.
- Immunosuppressants are often prescribed, to keep the immune system from attacking the bone marrow.
- Blood transfusions can help to boost the amount of red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Stem cell transplants from a donor create new, healthy blood cells and normalize the blood count. This is the only definitive cure for myelodysplastic syndrome.