Proper treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) can only be given with a precise diagnosis provided by a specialist called a hematopathologist. Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida is home to hematopathology and hematology-oncology physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating MDS.

Your care team includes specialists from many areas and understands the complexity of MDS. There are many ways to treat the disease depending on its type and stage and your age and health history. We carefully consider these factors to ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment.

What is myelodysplastic syndrome?

Myelodysplastic syndrome describes a group of disorders that affect hematopoietic stem cells – immature cells that can form all types of blood cells. These disorders begin in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made.

Medical illustration of myelodysplastic syndrome.

The condition happens when one hematopoietic stem cell becomes cancerous and multiplies. These cancerous cells – called blasts – can grow uncontrollably and affect the body’s ability to produce enough healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Some types of MDS are connected with changes to the genetic information (DNA) in bone marrow cells. Doctors are still researching why these changes happen.

In some cases, MDS can develop into acute leukemia.

What are the types of myelodysplastic syndrome?

The number of blasts in the blood and bone marrow determines the type of myelodysplastic syndrome. Types of MDS include:

  • Refractory anemia
  • Refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts
  • Refractory anemia with excess blasts
  • Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia
  • Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia and ringed sideroblasts

Another subtype of MDS is called therapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome. Therapy-related MDS is caused by chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.

What are the risk factors for myelodysplastic syndrome?

Risk factors for MDS include:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer treatment
  • Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene or radiation

What can you do to prevent myelodysplastic syndrome?

Though avoiding the risk factors for MDS could lower your chance of developing the condition, most people diagnosed with MDS have no known risk factors.

In the case of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, doctors look for ways to limit the risk for MDS. In most cases, the benefits of these treatments outweigh the small chance you will develop MDS.

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