What Is Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) And How Does It Turn Into Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?

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BY: ALLISON BROWN

In order to understand about Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), it is important to know about a few keywords like bone marrow, red and white blood cells and platelets.

Bone marrow is found inside bones, such as the skull, ribs, pelvis and spine. It is made up of blood-forming cells, fat cells, and supporting tissues that help the blood-forming cells grow. A small portion of the blood-forming cells is known as blood stem cells. Stem cells are needed to make new cells. When a stem cell divides it makes two cells: one cell that stays a stem cell, and another cell that can keep changing and dividing to make blood cells.

There are three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells pick up oxygen in the lungs and carry it to the rest of the body. These cells also bring carbon dioxide back to the lungs. Too few red blood cells are called anemia. It can make people feel tired and weak and look pale. Severe anemia can cause shortness of breath. White blood cells (also known as leukocytes) are important in defending the body against infection. The two major types of white blood cells are lymphocytes and granulocytes. Lymphocytes are immune cells that are found in the bone marrow, the blood, and in lymph nodes. They make the antibodies that help the body fight germs. They can also directly kill invading germs by producing toxic substances that damage the cells.

Lymphocytes are not usually abnormal in MDS. Granulocytes are white blood cells that destroy bacteria. Platelets are thought of as a type of blood cell, but they are actually small pieces of a cell. They start as a large cell in the bone marrow cell called the megakaryocyte. Pieces of this cell break off and enter the bloodstream as platelets. You need platelets for your blood to clot. They plug up damaged areas of blood vessels caused by cuts or bruises. A shortage of platelets, called thrombocytopenia, can result in abnormal bleeding or bruising.

In MDS, some of the cells in the bone marrow are damaged and have problems making new blood cells. Many of the blood cells formed by the damaged bone marrow cells are defective. Defective cells often die earlier than normal cells and the body also destroys some abnormal blood cells, leaving the patient with low blood counts because there aren’t enough normal blood cells. This is what leads to acute myeloid leukemia.
Acute myeloid leukemia occurs in about 30% of people diagnosed with MDS. AML is the most common type of leukemia in adults. It is less common in children. The treatments related to AML are chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, donor lymphocyte infusion, and supportive therapy.

I truly hope that the information presented above will help you to understand about one of the many diseases that so easily turn into types of cancer.
You can help those who are suffering from this disease by being informed, by providing financial support through a donation, attending a swab drive, and/or by going to Canadian Blood Services online. You must be between ages of 17 and 35. A swab inside of the cheek is required and sent off to a lab to determine if you are a match to someone.
On Saturday, March 18th, the Gerdine Graham Foundation Inc. will be sponsoring a swab-athon, panel discussion about debunking the myth about stem cell donation, and a 70’s theme fashion show dance in aid of Sonia Beckford who has been diagnosed with AML. Please make every effort to get family and friends out to find a match for Sonia. Have you ever loved someone and wanted to help them but you felt that you had not choice or options? That life was just slipping away? This is a heartfelt plea for a grandmother, mother, and wife.

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