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What are Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)?

Myelodysplastic syndromes are not unheard of in breast cancer patients who have undergone treatment. Find out what MDS is and symptoms to watch for.

By Dr. Hanadi Bu-Ali, Breast Surgeon, Wheaton Franciscan Comprehensive Breast Care Program in Wauwatosa, WI.

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are not unheard of in breast cancer patients who have undergone treatment for their cancer. I am sure many of us have heard Good Morning America Host Robin Roberts’ announcement this week that after beating breast cancer 5 years ago, she has been diagnosed with MDS. However, it does not mean that every patient who is treated with chemotherapy or radiation would develop it. As a matter of fact, most would not. As a cancer survivor, you are usually under close surveillance while undergoing treatment for the condition.

MDS includes a diverse collection of blood-related medical conditions that involve ineffective production (or dysplasia) of blood cells. They are all disorders of the stem cells (originator cells) in the bone marrow — which is the spongy material inside your bones where blood cells are made. In MDS, the number and quality of blood-forming cells (stem cells) declines, irreversibly leading to ineffective production.

There are several types of MDS, depending on the kind of cells that are affected. If primarily red blood cells are affected, anemia — with symptoms of fatigue or shortness of breath — can occur. Recurrent infections occur when white blood cells are primarily affected. If it is platelets, which are cells associated with blood clotted that are primarily affected, easy bruising or bleeding might occur. Symptoms might not be present early on in the disease.

Most often, the cause of the changes to the bone marrow is unknown. This is called de novo MDS. However, MDS can be caused by exposure to chemotherapy and radiation, which are common cancer treatments. This is called "treatment-related MDS." To differentiate MDS from other diseases that affect the formation of blood cells, a bone marrow sample is needed.

If you have been out of treatment for several years and are not being as closely followed, please look for the symptoms listed above and report them to your physician.

For more health information from the physicians and clinicians of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, visit our Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group blog.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

mau June 14, 2012 at 06:32 PM
My mother died of that in 1992. It was a result of the radiation treatments she had for cancer of the ovaries 10 years prior. She had fallen and broken the bones in her ankle. They had been brittle and broke easy. That is when they diagnosed her with the MDS. Because of her age she went on hospice because she accepted her outcome. With proper care and regular transfusions she lived 7 years. For her it was not a painful disease like cancer. But as the disease progressed and she needed transfusions more often her veins also began to thin. Her hospice nurse predicted approximately when and how she would die as the disease progressed. My mother went quickly when a vein burst in her brain. At that time her doctors were in denial that the radiation treatments were the cause of her MDS. My mother needed all types of the blood cells and platelets you mentioned. When she went for her doctor visit they tested which she was lacking and that is what she had transfused. As time went on she needed the transfusions more and more often. In the end every few days.
mau June 15, 2012 at 09:31 PM
I wonder what happened to the comment I left yesterday that my mother died of MDS in 1992. Her's was a result of radiation treatments for cancer of the uterus.

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