Risk factors include previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy, exposure to certain chemicals such as tobacco smoke, pesticides, and benzene, and exposure to heavy metals such as mercury or lead. Problems with blood cell formation result in some combination of low red blood cells, low platelets, and low white blood cells. Some types have an increase in immature blood cells, called blasts, in the bone marrow or blood. The types of MDS are based on specific changes in the blood cells and bone marrow.
Treatments may include supportive care, drug therapy, and stem cell transplantation. Supportive care may include blood transfusions, medications to increase the making of red blood cells, and antibiotics. Drug therapy may include the medication lenalidomide, antithymocyte globulin, and azacitidine. Certain people can be cured with chemotherapy followed by a stem-cell transplant from a donor.
About seven per 100,000 people are affected with about four per 100,000 people newly acquiring the condition each year. The typical age of onset is 70 years. The outlook depends on the type of cells affected, the number of blasts in the bone marrow or blood, and the changes present in the chromosomes of the affected cells. The typical survival rate following diagnosis is 2.5 years. The conditions were first recognized in the early 1900s. The current name came into use in 1976.
Signs and symptoms are nonspecific and generally related to the blood cytopenias:
Many individuals are asymptomatic, and blood cytopenia or other problems are identified as a part of a routine blood count:
Although some risk exists for developing acute myelogenous leukemia, about 50% of deaths occur as a result of bleeding or infection. However, leukemia that occurs as a result of myelodysplasia is notoriously resistant to treatment.
Anemia dominates the early course. Most symptomatic patients complain of the gradual onset of fatigue and weakness, dyspnea, and pallor, but at least half the patients are asymptomatic and their MDS is discovered only incidentally on routine blood counts. Previous chemotherapy or radiation exposure is an important fact in the person's medical history. Fever and weight loss should point to a myeloproliferative rather than myelodysplastic process.