Myelodysplastic syndrome - what you need to know

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which used to be known as 'preleukemia', is a large range of blood-related conditions in which there is an ineffective production of the myeloid class of blood cells.

MDS involves problems with stem cells in the bone marrow. The production of blood is less frequent and patients require frequent blood transfusions. The quality and quantity of blood-forming cells is reduced, which further complicates the production of blood.

Who can get Myelodysplastic syndrome and how?
Generally, children and young adults do not suffer from MDS and it is most prevalent in people over the age of 50. Receiving chemotherapy or cancer treatment or a bone marrow transplant increases the risk of MDS because of the high doses of drugs and radiation that the person is subject to. Genetics also play a role as some parents, can pass on abnormal genes which can cause bone marrow problems. Smoking and being exposed to radiation or benzene in the workplace can also increase the chances of a person suffering from MDS, while it should be noted that  men are more likely to suffer from MDS than women.

How can Myelodysplastic syndrome be treated?
The main aim of treating MDS is managing the situation and controlling it from progressively decreasing a person cell count. There are a number of chemicals and treatment solutions that are used, which include:  5-azacytidine (Vidaza), which helps bring blood cell levels back up and negates the use of blood transfusions for some patients; Decitabine (Dacogen), which has shown high rates of success in returning cell counts to a healthy level; and Lenalidomide (Revlimid), which helps improve red blood cell development and reduces the need for transfusions of red blood cells in patients. For younger or more severe cases, stem cell transplantation has shown favourable results. A more risky procedure is to overload the patient with iron in the hope that there will be less need for red blood cell transfusions. This can, however, have adverse affects and lead to complications arising from too much iron in the body.