About Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)


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Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of cancers where blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature to become healthy blood cells. These immature cells then crowd out the healthy cells important to protecting the body from infection and bleeding.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of MDS:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Flat spots under the skin, also called petechiae
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Having skin that is paler than usual

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about myelodysplastic syndromes from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of Blood Cell Development

drawing of blood cell development

Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the recommendations of the care team and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for MDS: 

  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Transfusions
  • Chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Hematologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with all types of blood cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

Find a Myelodysplastic Syndromes Doctor

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for MDS:

  • Aging
  • Past treatment for cancer with chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals
  • Being exposed to heavy metals such as mercury or lead

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about cancer screenings.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Doctors use these tests to diagnose MDS:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They also look for abnormal amounts of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: The health care provider removes a small sample of bone marrow to look for abnormal cells under a microscope.

Stages of Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body. There is no standard staging system for MDS.

Learn more about myelodysplastic syndromes from the National Cancer Institute.