Myelodysplastic syndrome is caused when the bone marrow begins to produce abnormal blood cells due to DNA corruption. The abnormal blood cells are unable to work properly and reproduce quickly, reducing the ability of the blood to carry out its required tasks. When the abnormal blood cells cause a reduction in the number of white blood cells in the body, the body becomes unable to fight infection and foreign agents. As a result, the individual affected becomes ill easier and for longer periods of time. When the levels of red blood cells are affected, the proper amount of oxygen cannot get to all areas of the body and anemia can develop. The blood cells are affected while they are still immature and as they grow, they are a different size and shape than normal blood cells, making diagnosis possible with a careful review.
The condition primarily affects older individuals and the average age of diagnosis is around 65 years of age. The older an individual is, the higher their risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome becomes. Patients with a history of exposure to chemotherapy or radiation have an increased risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome. The risk increases the longer the individual has been exposed to the agent. Individuals that have worked it the petroleum industry for long periods of time are also at an increased risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome due to the long term exposure to hydrocarbons. Long term exposure to certain carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene, xylene, pesticides, or cigarette smoke, can also lead to an increased risk of developing the condition. The condition affects males with slightly more frequency than females.
The number of individuals in the United States that have developed myelodysplastic syndrome is unknown because the condition typically remained undiagnosed until it has progressed into acute myelogenous leukemia or has caused serious complications requiring medical intervention. Experts estimate that around 10,000 to 20,000 cases of the condition develop in the United States annually. There is currently no cure for the condition and no way to halt its progression towards acute leukemia. Current treatments are geared to alleviate the symptoms of myelodysplastic syndrome and slow the progression of the condition. With proper medical treatment, the condition can be managed for many years without serious complications.
Knowing the common risk factors of myelodysplastic syndrome may help the patient and their health care professional identify the cause of their illness at a significantly faster rate than if the individual was unaware of the risk factors. In many cases, the condition remains asymptomatic for many years as the number of abnormal blood cells in the body is being constantly increased. Once the symptoms have appeared, the physician will recommend current treatments that may be effective in the patient’s case. In some cases, treatment may be delayed until the symptoms of myelodysplastic syndrome begin to affect the patient’s quality of life, which may be many years after diagnosis.
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