Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS, is a rare blood disorder that develops when the bone marrow is unable to produce normal, healthy blood cells. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly.

Every person’s disease is different, with different genes and molecules driving that disorder. At the OSUCCC – James, our specialists and subspecialists are world-renowned experts who focus solely on blood and bone marrow disorders. They include hematologists, radiation oncologists, molecular and biological pathologists, genetic scientists and more to design the best treatment plan possible, using therapies that target each patient’s specific disease.

And by receiving access to the country’s most advanced clinical trials right here at the OSUCCC – James, patients know that additional treatment options are available when needed.

What is Myelodysplastic Syndrome?

In a healthy body, the bone marrow contains stem cells that give rise to mature blood cells.

A stem cell may then change a little to become either a lymphoid stem cell or a myeloid stem cell. Myeloid stem cells can go on to become one of three kinds of mature blood cells:

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen and other substances to all body tissues
  • Platelets, which form blood clots to stop bleeding
  • Granulocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infection

In patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), the myeloid stem cells do not become mature red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.

Instead, they form immature blast cells that crowd the bone marrow. Some MDS cases can progress to become acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

MDS is rare, with about 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. People at higher risk are those who are over 60 years old, have had chemotherapy or radiation therapy or have been exposed to certain chemicals.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Types of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

There are several types of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and each is categorized according to changes that happen in a patient’s blood and bone marrow.

Types of MDS:

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

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

About Cytopenias

Patients with MDS characteristically have chronic low blood counts, or cytopenias. This can be low red blood cell counts (anemia), low white blood cell counts (leukopenia) or low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia).

Cytopenias can cause different symptoms in patients. For example, anemia can lead to fatigue or shortness of breath with exertion; leukopenia can affect how well the immune system functions, placing patients at higher risk for severe infections; low platelet counts can result in bleeding.

Types of Cytopenias

There are several types of cytopenias, which is a low count of a specific blood cell:


The patient has a low red blood cell count, and this causes weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath.


The patient has a low number of platelets, which can lead to easy bruising and bleeding.


The patient has a low number of white blood cells, called leukocytes.


The patient has a low number of a certain type of white blood cell.


The patient has a low number of red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells.

Myelodysplastic Syndrome Symptoms

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) does not always cause symptoms when it first develops, and it is sometimes found during a regular blood test or a blood test done for other reasons (for example, blood work done prior to a surgical procedure or as part of a routine physical).

When symptoms do appear, they might be vague or similar to those caused by other medical problems. As MDS symptoms progress, they include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or feeling tired
  • Skin that is paler than usual
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding (called Petechiae)
  • Recurrent infections

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Having symptoms does not necessarily mean you have MDS. But if you have symptoms, you should tell your doctor, especially if symptoms are severe or have continued for longer than a few weeks.

If you’ve been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a blood disorder specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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