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About Myelodysplastic Syndrome

In a healthy person, immature blood cells (blood stem cells) in the bone marrow become mature red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Myelodysplastic syndromes occur when something disrupts this process so that the blood cells don’t mature. When immature blood cells (blasts) do not develop normally, they multiply and leave less room for healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets to form in the bone marrow. Over time, there become more defective cells than healthy ones, which can create complications, such as severe anemia, debilitating fatigue, recurrent life-threatening infections, and more.

Types of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Myelodysplastic syndrome is broken down into subtypes, which are classified based on the types of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) involved.

Subtypes of myelodysplastic syndrome include:

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome with single lineage dysplasia occurs when one blood cell type (white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets) is low in number and appears abnormal under a microscope.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome with multilineage dysplasia occurs when two or three blood cell types (white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets) are low in number and appear abnormal under a microscope.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome with ring sideroblasts occurs when there is a low number of one or more blood cell types (white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets). Existing red blood cells in the bone marrow contain a ring of excess iron; these cells are called ring sideroblasts
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with isolated del chromosome abnormality occurs when there are low numbers of red blood cells and the cells have a specific mutation in their DNA.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome with excess blasts — types 1 and 2 occur when any of the three types of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets) might be low in number and appear abnormal under a microscope. Very immature blood cells (blasts) are found in the blood and bone marrow
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome, unclassifiable occurs when one of the three types of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets) are low in number and either the white blood cells or platelets look abnormal under a microscope.

Symptoms of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Early myelodysplastic syndrome rarely causes symptoms.

Common symptoms to look for include:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Experiencing easy or unusual bleeding
  • Experiencing frequent infections
  • Having pinpoint-sized red spots beneath your skin
  • Unusual paleness of the skin

Risk Factors for Myelodysplastic Syndrome:

  • Older age, usually over the age of 60, though it can occur at any age
  • Prior chemotherapy or radiation exposure
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as tobacco smoke, pesticides, and industrial chemicals (e.g., benzene)
  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury or lead
  • Problems with blood cell formation (e.g., low red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cell counts)
  • Familial/inherited genetic abnormality

Treating Myelodysplastic Syndrome at UT Health Austin

Treatment will require an accurate diagnosis and depend on disease progression. An individual care plan will be developed and tailored to manage symptoms to meet the needs of the individual patient. Decisions about treatment may include combinations of immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and consideration of stem cell transplant.

Care Team Approach

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include specialists that are nationally recognized leaders at the forefront of their fields, including medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice providers, physical therapists, social workers, dietitians, and more, who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin, and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.

Learn More About Your Care Team

Hematologic Malignancies

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