Also called: MDS

What is myelodysplasia?

Myelodysplasia (MDS) refers to a group of disorders related to the body’s inability to produce enough normal blood cells. Bone marrow, the spongy material inside bones, makes these cells.

MDS can reduce production of any, and sometimes all, blood cells:

  • Red, which carry oxygen to body tissues
  • White, which help protect against infections and fight them off when they occur
  • Platelets, which help in blood clotting

As a result, patients with MDS are more likely to develop the following:

  • Bleeding that is hard to stop—from too few platelets. Severe bleeding can lead to shock and may be fatal.
  • Anemia—from too few red blood cells
  • Infections—from too few white blood cells
    • MDS reduces patients’ defenses against viral and bacterial infections. People with MDS may be more prone to problems with Epstein-Barr, varicella zoster, HIV or AIDS infections.
    • Illnesses such as colds and pneumonia may be more severe and even fatal in patients with MDS.

In about 30 percent of patients, MDS progresses to a disease called acute myeloid leukemia. Learn more about acute myeloid leukemia.

How common is myelodysplasia?

  • Most often affecting adults older than 50, MDS in children is rare.
  • Fewer than 100 new cases in children are reported yearly in the United States.
  • MDS affects children of all ages, but it affects more boys than girls.
  • For reasons not yet understood, MDS happens more often in some families than in others. Abnormal genes passed on from one or both parents have been found to increase the likelihood of children developing MDS.
  • Some inherited disorders can lead to MDS. Among them:
    • Fanconi anemia
    • Shwachman-Diamond syndrome
    • Diamond Blackfan anemia
    • Familial platelet disorder
  • Chemotherapy, especially when combined with radiation therapy, is a key factor in the onset of MDS.
  • Exposure to certain toxic chemicals, such as tobacco smoke and benzene, has been linked to MDS.
  • Treatment with certain medicines, such as those used to treat cancer, may also be a factor.

What are the symptoms of myelodysplasia?

Up to 20% of children with certain types of MDS will have no symptoms. Some of the more noticeable symptoms of MDS in children include:

  • Bleeding
  • Easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

How is myelodysplasia treated?

The most effective treatment for most types of MDS is called allogeneic stem cell/bone marrow transplantation. Learn more about this treatment at: Allogeneic Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant.

Other therapies that may be used to treat MDS include:

  • Chemotherapy (“chemo”) — is used to treat patients with MDS who are at high risk of their disease progressing to AML. Chemo uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells.
    • Chemo may be injected into the bloodstream, so that it can travel throughout the body.
    • Some chemo may be given by mouth.
    • Combination therapy uses more than one type of chemo at a time.
  • Therapies for MDS may include blood and platelet transfusions and antibiotics.

What are the survival rates for myelodysplasia?

MDS has a long-term survival rate of up to 60% in patients treated with allogeneic stem cell/bone marrow transplantation.

Why choose St. Jude for your child’s myelodysplasia treatment?

  • St. Jude is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.
  • St. Jude has created more clinical trials for cancer than any other children’s hospital in the United States.
  • The nurse-to-patient ratio at St. Jude is unmatched— averaging 1:3 in hematology and oncology, and 1:1 in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • To improve outcomes and reduce side effects related to stem cell/bone marrow transplant, doctors in the St. Jude Transplant Program work closely with laboratory scientists to rapidly move discoveries from the lab to the clinic.
  • St. Jude support staff have been specially trained to care for children receiving stem cell transplants.
  • Your child will have access to a close-knit team of specialists that includes: surgeons; doctors and nurses who treat this cancer; doctors who specialize in radiation therapy, in hormones (endocrinologists), and in diagnosis (pathologists); experts in diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine; dietitians; speech therapists; rehabilitation specialists (physical therapists, occupational therapists); child life specialists; psychologists; Quality of Life team members; experts who help manage and minimize the long-term or late effects of treatment; researchers; scientists; and many others.
  • The medical team works closely with laboratory researchers to bring new treatments from the laboratory to the clinic.

Associated Clinical Trials

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