Early this summer television anchor Robin Roberts made a tearful announcement.
“As many of you know, five years ago I beat breast cancer. Now sometimes treatment for cancer can lead to other serious medical issues and that’s what I’m facing right now. It is something called MDS- Myelodysplastic Syndrome,” says Robin Roberts.
That’s when she put a face to myelodysplastic syndrome. MDS is a collection of blood disorders most people have never heard of.
“Myelodysplastic Syndrome is kind of under the radar because in some ways it’s a malignancy but it’s really a disorder of the bone marrow that causes a failure to produce the normal cells in the bone marrow. The older term is pre-leukemia because some, but not all, patients over time will evolve into an acute leukemia,” says Dr. William Harwin, oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Not quite a cancer itself, it has shares many characteristics.
“An uncontrolled proliferation, which cells don’t have the normal stops and normal controls and it’s also at the same time a capacity to spread to the parts of the body where they normally don’t belong,” says Dr. Harwin.
Question is, what causes the breakdown of blood production. Scientists determined the disease can stem from previous cancer treatment. That’s what Roberts believes happened to her.
“Most of the time we really don’t know why. There’s some situations where this can actually be a consequence or a late manifestation in someone who had chemotherapy several years before. It can be related to radiation in rare situations,” says Dr. Harwin.
The only cure for MDS is a bone marrow transplant; the route Roberts took. Far more people will manage it as a chronic condition. Despite it’s reputation as pre-leukemia, only 30% of cases will make that evolution.