In a shocking announcement on Monday, beloved Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts revealed that she is now fighting myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS. Roberts believes that her breast cancer treatments several years ago may have led to the development of MDS.
Myelodysplastic syndrome is not just a single disease but a group of disorders that affect the blood (or stem cells) and bone marrow. Essentially, with MDS, the bone marrow – the body's defense system – malfunctions, producing defective cells or not nearly enough cells as the body requires. According to the Mayo Clinic, in some cases of MDS, the “bone marrow responsible for making blood cells (stem cells) don't mature.”
Though not as commonly used anymore, MDS is often referred to as “preleukemia,” because in some cases, individuals with MDS may later develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Roughly one-third of all MDS cases will later develop into AML.
Symptoms most commonly associated with MDS include weight loss, fever and loss of appetite. Low blood counts, also symptomatic of MDS, exacerbate existing symptoms while adding a plethora of new ones. Low levels of red blood cells leads to exhaustion, while bruising is attributed to low platelet levels. White blood cells – the basis of our immune system – protects our body from infection. Low white blood cell counts signify an infection.
Though older, white males run at a higher risk of developing MDS, young people who are relatively healthy and physically fit may also be at risk. However, out of the 12,000 new MDS diagnoses each year, most afflicted are older adults over the age of 60.
Roberts has “secondary MDS” as the result of previous treatment for her breast cancer instead of those with a genetic predisposition.
At 51, Roberts is younger than the average MDS patient, and was assured by her medical team that since she is also “fitter,” there is a greater probability that she “will be cured. ”Unfortunately, like other blood and bone marrow conditions, MDS is often deadly. In general, the prognosis for a MDS patient is determined by a set of mitigating factors. According to the National Cancer Institute, whether a diagnosis for MDS happened after treatment for another cancer is a primary factor for not only prognosis but also what treatment options are available.
Roberts is scheduled for a donor bone marrow transplant later this year. The donor bone marrow will come from her sister, and Roberts is “fortunate to have a sister who is an excellent match.”
Though bone marrow transplants are a common treatment protocol, it does not mean that it will completely cure MDS. For Roberts, she hopes that the bone marrow from her sister will “greatly” improve her chances.
After recovering from her bone marrow transplant, Roberts expects to be back to work at Good Morning America.
“I love what I do and the people with whom I do it,” said Roberts.