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Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Myelodysplastic Syndromes Symptoms and Risks

Doctors diagnose more than 15,000 new cases of myelodysplastic syndromes each year in the United States. Although myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) can affect people at any age, patients tend to be elderly at the time of diagnosis. MDS cancers are rare in children.

There are 2 types of MDS:

  • Primary MDS, which has no known cause (sometimes called de novo MDS). Primary MDS is the most common form of MDS cancer.
  • Secondary MDS, which occurs after chemotherapy or radiation therapy for a previously diagnosed cancer. The DNA damage responsible for causing secondary MDS can turn into myelodysplasia up to a decade later.

Myelodysplastic Syndromes Symptoms

Myelodysplastic syndrome symptoms are caused by low blood counts associated with the disease. If red blood cell counts are low, you may experience:

  • Anemia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Chest pain

If white blood cell counts are low, you may experience:

  • Increased risk of infection
  • Frequent or recurrent infections

If platelet counts are low, you may experience:

  • Increased susceptibility to bleeding and bruising, as well as subcutaneous hemorrhaging
  • Tiny red spots just under the skin (petechiae)
  • Severe or frequent nosebleeds
  • Bleeding from the gums

Many people do not experience any MDS symptoms at all or do not recognize their symptoms as anything to be worried about. In these cases, a low blood count may be the only indicator that there is a problem. Sometimes an abnormal blood cell count will indicate an MDS diagnosis even before the affected person has noticed any physical symptoms.

Myelodysplastic syndromes risk factors

Certain risk factors can increase the chances of developing of MDS, although they do not directly cause myelodysplasia. You can have several risk factors and never face a diagnosis of MDS, while other people may develop MDS cancer even without any known risk factors. You can control some risk factors by making certain lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of getting MDS cancer. Other risk factors are beyond your control.

The most common risk factors for MDS include:

  • Age: MDS cancer is more common in people who are older than 60 and occurs less often in younger people.
  • Gender: Doctors diagnose men with MDS more frequently than women.
  • Long-term exposure to toxic chemicals, like tobacco smoke, pesticides and industrial chemicals such as benzene, can increase your chances of getting MDS.
  • Lead and mercury exposure have been linked to MDS.

Although MDS is not inherited (parents do not pass MDS to their children), certain genetic conditions can increase a person’s risk for developing myelodysplastic syndromes. These genetic risk factors include some types of anemia, platelet disorders and conditions that affect the marrow.

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