Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)





Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), oftentimes simply referred to as myelodysplasia or bone marrow failure disorder, are a group of hematologic disorders wherein the bone marrow is unable to produce a sufficient amount of red blood cells. This group of conditions is a type of cancer that is characterized by the presence of abnormal cells within the bone marrow and/or the blood.

Normally, the bone marrow produces immature versions (stem cells or blasts) of the three major kinds of blood cells: red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to the rest of the body; white blood cells, which help deal with infection; and platelets, which aid in the clotting of the blood. When a person is diagnosed with MDS, his bone marrow is unable to manufacture healthy versions of any or all of the aforementioned blood cells. Instead, what are produced are abnormal cells that are unable to develop and function properly.

This condition mainly affects the elderly population; especially those who are older than 65, but it can also affect people of a younger age as well. The incidence for this group of conditions is estimated at 3.4 per 100,000 individuals annually in the United States.



Primarily, the precise causes for myelodysplastic syndromes are unknown. There are researches conducted that suggested that some people are born with the predisposition to come up with MDS. This predisposition is then somehow triggered by an external factor, which causes an individual to become diagnosed with these conditions. If an external factor cannot be identified, the condition is denoted as primary MDS.

If the MDS has been identified as a result of another event or circumstance such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, it is often referred to as secondary MDS. Individuals who have been subjected to chemotherapy drugs and/or radiation therapy for cancers that are possibly curable have a high risk for developing MDS within 10 years from the last course of treatment. Also, a continuous and lengthy exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene can also prompt the development of myelodysplastic syndromes. Secondary myelodysplastic syndromes often progress further into acute myeloid leukemia (AML).


Signs and Symptoms

During the early stages of the disease, patients with MDS may or may not experience any symptoms pertaining to the condition. Usually, it takes a blood count to determine the low levels of blood cells within the bloodstream. However, when the affected individual does manifest some symptoms, it will usually be based on which blood cell counts are below the normal level.

Most of the patients with MDS will experience anemia, or low red blood cell count. Patients who are anemic usually feel tired and weak since their body is not receiving a sufficient amount of oxygen. The fatigue felt by the patient can sometimes be accompanied by pallor (pale skin), shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

Patients, who have a low white blood cell count or neutropenia, usually have a compromised system for resisting simple infections. They are the ones who are susceptible to skin infections, respiratory infections, or urinary tract infections. Oftentimes, fever indicates the presence of an infection in the body.

Those with thrombocytopenia (low platelet count, on the other hand, are those who have a tendency to become easily bruised or bleed spontaneously even after very minor injuries. A common sign of this is nosebleeds.



Myelodysplastic syndromes can be managed using the following routes:


  1. Supportive Treatment

With this method, the treatment will be based on the presentation of symptoms are the disease progresses. It can be done through one or a combination of:

  • Blood transfusion – depending on the blood component that is deficient, an infusion of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets may be administered;
  • Iron chelation drugs – iron can buildup in the bloodstream after receiving blood transfusions, so it is important to get rid of the excess iron;
  • Growth factor drug injections – this is to encourage the bone marrow to manufacture more blood cells that are healthy and viable; and
  • Antibiotic therapy – to act as prophylaxis and to treat existing infections while the levels of white blood cells are low.


  1. Immunosuppression Treatment

Drugs that subdue the activity of the immune system allow the bone marrow to compensate by producing more blood cells as needed.


  1. Chemotherapy

This route is applicable to patients who are susceptible to the progression of their MDS into acute myeloid leukemia. This treatment regimen involves administration of drugs, via oral or IV route, to destroy immature blood cells that are potentially cancerous.


  1. Stem Cell Transplant

A very radical method of treatment, and is considered to be the only cure so far for MDS, stem cell (bone marrow) transplant involves destroying the patient’s own bone marrow and replacing it with a healthy specimen from a suitable donor. This type of treatment is only done to patients who have a better chance of survival, paired with a good prognosis.


Disability Tax Credits for Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)

Myelodysplastic syndromes are some of the conditions that can really bring you down. However, MDS entitles you to a disability tax refund from the Canadian Revenue Agency. To know more about filing for this tax claim, call on a HandyTax representative who can guide you regarding the steps you need to undertake.