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Is Myelodysplastic Syndrome Cancerous?

Myelodysplastic syndrome is a rare group of disorders characterized by the inability of the bone marrow to produce sufficient healthy blood cells. It is also called bone marrow failure disorder. It usually develops after the age of 60 years. However, it can develop at any age. Men are more affected by this disorder than women. It can be mild or severe. It usually develops due to mutations in the genes from birth in some congenital diseases like Down syndrome, Fanconi syndrome, Bloom syndrome, etc. It can also appear after 1 to 15 years of radiation therapy done for acute lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s disease. Its symptoms are similar to anemia. It can be treated with bone marrow transplantation.

Is Myelodysplastic Syndrome Cancerous?

Is Myelodysplastic Syndrome Cancerous?

Myelodysplastic syndrome refers to a group of blood cancers that appear due to inappropriate production of immature blood cells in the bone marrow. In this syndrome, these immature blood cells become cancerous named as blasts. It alters the normal function of healthy blood cells. It results in the reduction of one or more type of healthy blood cells in the body. About one-third of this syndrome progress into a rapidly growing blood cancer named acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) develops more in men than women. Its risk increases with increase in age. It is detected more after the age of 60 years. It is rarely seen in young children. It also runs in the families.

It is found that MDS develops in 1-15 years after having radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancerous diseases like acute lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease or Non-Hodgkin’s disease. Those people who are at continuous exposure of pesticides, tobacco smoke, benzene (an important ingredient of the cigarette, cleaning products, art supplies, detergents, glue, etc are more likely to develop this disease. Some cancer drugs such as cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil, Ifosfamide, melphalan, etc are linked with MDS.

MDS develops due to alterations in the DNA of stem cells. It happens due to the genetic predisposition of a person. Stem cells are the immature cells of blood that grow into different blood cells. These stem cells are produced by the bone marrow. In this disorder, the blood cells produced in the bone marrow are defective and abnormal. Some of these abnormal cells are destroyed by the body’s defense mechanism. But, immature blood cells are so many in numbers that the body has insufficient healthy blood cells. It results in the most common symptoms of anemia.

In normal cell growth, there is a possibility of spontaneous DNA mutations. The cell divides with a new copy of DNA in each cell division process. In some cases, errors develop during the process of replication. It leads to the abnormal development of the cells resulting in the activation of cancer-causing genes i.e. oncogenes and suppression of the genes that hinder the growth of tumors. Oncogenes are responsible for the control of cell growth, multiplication, and duration of cell life. Tumor suppression genes stop the growth of the damage cells or destroy them. In MDS, tumor suppression genes are inactive that activates the replication of cancer cells frequently.

MDS is a progressive disease. In 1 out of 3 patients of MDS develop cancer in them. This type of cancer is known as acute myeloid leukemia. It is rapidly growing cancer that involves the bone marrow. In the past days, MDS was called preleukemia or smoldering leukemia. But in recent times, MDS is considered a disease of low malignant potential. Many physicians consider it as a form of cancer. Thus, MDS is cancerous.


Myelodysplastic syndrome is a group of diseases characterized by faulty production of immature blood cells in the bone marrow. It results in an abrupt increase in the abnormal blood cells reducing the number of healthy blood cells. It is considered a form of cancer that may lead to cancerous growth in some of its patients.


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 22, 2021

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