Myelodysplastic syndrome refers to a group of conditions that result from dysfunctional or malformed blood cells. The blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. Any defects in the bone marrow lead to the development of myelodysplastic syndrome.
There is no cure for myelodysplastic syndrome. The aim of the treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome is to alleviate and prevent the complications that result from the disorder. A few individuals affected by myelodysplastic syndrome may undergo a bone marrow transplant to prolong their lives.
Symptoms of myelodysplastic syndrome
The early stages of myelodysplastic syndrome may not elicit any signs and symptoms. However with the passage of time, the following symptoms may be experienced by the patients:
- Breathlessness or shortness of breath
- Abnormal or easy bleeding and/or bruising
- Excessive paleness as a result of anemia
- Persistent infections
- The area just below the skin may develop very tiny red spots due to bleeding
- A few people with myelodysplastic syndrome may eventually develop leukemia which is a cancer of the blood cells.
Types of myelodysplastic syndrome
As per the type of blood cells that are affected, i.e. white cells, red cells and/or platelets, myelodysplastic syndrome are classified into the following subtypes:
- Refractory cytopenia with unilineage dysplasia: A particular type of blood cells has a low count. When such an affected is observed under a microscope, it appears unusual
- Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia: In this type, any two types of blood cells have an abnormal appearance. Additionally, less than one percent of such cells present in the blood are blasts or immature cells
- Refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts: There is low red blood cells count in this type of myelodysplastic syndrome. Also, such red cells have increased quantities of iron
- Refractory anemia with excess blasts — types 1 and 2: In these types of myelodysplastic syndrome any of the three forms of blood cells may appear irregular under a microscope and are low in count. There is also the presence of extremely immature blood cells or blasts in the bloodstream
- Myelodysplastic syndrome accompanying isolated del(5q) chromosome abnormality: The red blood cells are low in number. Also, individuals affected by this type of myelodysplastic syndrome have an explicit abnormality in their DNA.
- Myelodysplastic syndrome, unclassified: This type is rare and has low count of any one of the blood cell types. The platelets or the white blood cells may have an abnormal appearance when viewed via a microscope.
Causes of myelodysplastic syndrome
Myelodysplastic syndrome is generally caused when unknown factors disrupt the regulated and methodical manufacture of blood cells. Individuals affected by myelodysplastic syndrome have immature and faulty blood cells that do not develop normally. Instead, they die when in the bone barrow or after passing into the blood.
With the passage of time the healthy cells tend to become outnumbered by the defective, immature cells. This causes the many problems associated with myelodysplastic syndrome such as anemia, increased bleeding and infections
If the cause of myelodysplastic syndrome is not known, then it is easier to treat. Myelodysplastic syndrome caused due to exposure to chemicals or due to different types of cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy is known as secondary myelodysplastic syndrome and is more difficult to treat.
The vulnerability to developing myelodysplastic syndrome increases due to the following risk factors:
- An increased age of above 60 years
- Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury and lead increase the risk to developing myelodysplastic syndrome
- Males are more susceptible to the condition as compared to women
- Prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke, industrial chemical and pesticides
Myelodysplastic Syndrome treatment
Myelodysplastic syndrome has no known cure. Most of the treatments are focused at alleviating the various symptoms of the disorder and at managing the various complications such as infections, bleeding, fatigue, etc.
Some of the treatments for myelodysplastic syndrome include the following:
- Blood transfusion is one of the methods that is employed to rejuvenate the count and number of the different blood cell types, i.e. red cells, platelets and white blood cells.
- There are various medications that may be prescribed to increase the count of healthy cells in the body. They include:
- There are drugs known as growth factors that aid the body in producing increased number of healthy cells. Some of these medications also aid the production of increased number of white blood cells, which in turn can help fight the many infections that may affect the body
- Immunosuppressants or medications that suppress the immune system are also prescribed
- Some medications can help the immature cells in the body to become mature. However, these drugs may not help all the patients of myelodysplastic syndrome and can instead aggravate the condition
- If a patient is affected by that type of myelodysplastic syndrome that is accompanied by a specific genetic abnormality, then medications like lenalidomide may be recommended.
- A bone marrow stem cell transplant is another option, wherein all the cells of the bone marrow are destroyed with potent chemotherapy. The cells are then replaced from a healthy donor via stem cell transplant procedure.
Myelodysplastic Syndrome life expectancy
Non-transplant patients live for more than ten years, the average is kept 3 to 5 years, though one can see long-time remission if bone marrow transplant is done successfully. The best prognosis is witnessed in case of refractory anemia and refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts. In case of RAEB-T, the life expectancy is less than 1 year. Most people die from overt leukemia, low blood count and unrelated disorders.