Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells. These immature blood cells, called blasts, do not work the way they should and either die in the bone marrow or soon after they go into the blood. This leaves less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets to form in the bone marrow. When there are fewer healthy blood cells, infection, anemia or easy bleeding may occur.
The different types of myelodysplastic syndromes are diagnosed based on certain changes in the blood cells and bone marrow.
- Refractory anemia: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. The number of white blood cells and platelets is normal.
- Refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. The red blood cells have too much iron inside the cell. The number of white blood cells and platelets is normal.
- Refractory anemia with excess blasts: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. Five percent to 19% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts. There also may be changes to the white blood cells and platelets. Refractory anemia with excess blasts may progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
- Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia: There are too few of at least two types of blood cells (red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cells). Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts and less than 1% of the cells in the blood are blasts. If red blood cells are affected, they may have extra iron. Refractory cytopenia may progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
- Refractory cytopenia with unilineage dysplasia: There are too few of one type of blood cell (red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cells). There are changes in 10% or more of two other types of blood cells. Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts and less than 1% of the cells in the blood are blasts.
- Unclassifiable myelodysplastic syndrome: The numbers of blasts in the bone marrow and blood are normal, and the disease is not one of the other myelodysplastic syndromes.
- Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with an isolated del(5q) chromosome abnormality: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow and blood are blasts. There is a specific change in the chromosome.
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML): Visit the National Cancer Institute for more information.
Signs & Symptoms
Myelodysplastic syndromes often do not cause early signs or symptoms. They may be found during a routine blood test. Signs and symptoms may be caused by myelodysplastic syndromes or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or feeling tired
- Having skin that is paler than usual
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
There are three types of standard treatment. Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.
Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care may include the following:
- Transfusion therapy (blood transfusion) is a method of giving red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets to replace blood cells destroyed by disease or treatment.
- Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) may be given to increase the number of mature red blood cells made by the body and to lessen the effects of anemia.
- Antibiotics may be given to fight infection.
- Lenalidomide is used to lessen the need for red blood cell transfusions.
- Immunosuppressive therapy works to suppress or weaken the immune system and lessen the need for red blood cell transfusions.
- Azacitidine and decitabine are used to treat myelodysplastic syndromes by killing cells that are dividing rapidly. They also help genes that are involved in cell growth to work the way they should.
- Chemotherapy used in acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
Stem cell transplant is a method of giving chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of a donor. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stem cells are given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body’s blood cells.