Currently, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is often found during a regular blood test or blood tests that are done to evaluate other symptoms, so it’s important to tell your doctor about any symptoms you might have.

If you have MDS symptoms, the OSUCCC – James experts will conduct a variety of tests, which might include:

Physical Exam

During a physical exam, your doctor will check for signs of MDS by examining general signs of health; discussing your health habits, past illnesses and previous treatments; and looking for anything unusual, such as lumps.

Blood Tests

A blood test measures and counts the different types of cells in the blood.

Patients with MDS often have a lower number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. They may also have cells that are not normal sizes or shapes. Blood chemistry studies check for other possible causes of low blood counts, such as low levels of vitamin B12 and folate.

A complete blood count will determine:

  • The number of red blood cells and platelets
  • The number and type of white blood cells
  • The presence of immature cells, called blasts

Other tests might be done to measure the amount of certain chemicals and antibodies (proteins) in the blood and determine how blood cells look under a microscope.

Bone Marrow Aspiration & Biopsy

By studying blood and bone marrow samples, blood disorder specialists (called hematopathologists) can look for the percentage of immature blood cells, also called blasts, to help determine if the patient has MDS.

  • During a bone marrow aspiration, an OSUCCC – James specialist will insert a hollow needle into the hip bone to remove a small sample of liquid bone marrow.
  • For a bone marrow biopsy, a hollow needle will be inserted into the hip bone to collect a small sample of the bone.


This process identifies cells based on the kind of specific markers (genetic and molecular flags) on the surface of the cells. The test can identify the type of MDS by comparing the person’s unhealthy cells to the normal cells of the immune system.


This test uses special staining to light up specific cell features. This highlights differences between the various kinds of cells in the bone marrow.

Cytogenetic Studies

Cytogenetic studies look at a patient’s unhealthy cells for damaged chromosomes (structures in cells where the genes are located) that are sometimes present in MDS and that might play a role in their disease.

Identifying that damage can help the OSUCCC – James subspecialists decide the very best kind of personalized treatment for each MDS patient.

Flow Cytometry

Once blood and bone marrow samples are collected, experts treat the cells from those samples with special antibodies (proteins), then pass them in front of a laser beam. This technique helps identify and count the kinds of cells present in samples of blood or bone marrow.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Myelodysplastic Syndrome Scoring Systems

The OSUCCC – James MDS experts use something called prognostic scoring systems to help determine the risk for transformation to AML, overall prognosis and, ultimately, the best treatment for patients with MDS.

Prognostic scoring systems take into account the degree of cytopenias, cytogenetics and the number of immature blood cells, or blasts, in the bone marrow.

There are two main prognostic scoring systems that are used for patients with MDS: the International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS) and the Revised International Prognostic Scoring System (R-IPSS).

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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