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Diagnosis of a Rare Blood Disorder for TV Anchor Robin Roberts and Death of Screenwriter Nora Ephron Brings Attention to MDS

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July 18, 2012

A rare blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) has received some public attention lately after news broke that Robin Roberts, 51, anchor for "Good Morning America", was diagnosed with the disease and Nora Ephron, the celebrated author and screen writer ("Sleepless in Seattle", "You’ve Got Mail"), died at age 71 from complications of leukemia that had transformed from MDS.

MDS is a group of disorders associated with dysfunctional and ineffective bone marrow that leads to decreased production of one or more types of blood cells. MDS can lead to anemia, recurrent infections, and/or excessive bruising and bleeding and can develop spontaneously or after exposure to certain drugs, chemicals, and toxins.

MDS can vary greatly in how it manifests. Some cases go undetected for many years and may not be diagnosed until significant blood cell shortages develop and/or until the disease begins to progress quickly. Other cases of MDS are more aggressive and advance rapidly. Depending on the types of blood cell affected, symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, pale skin, recurrent infections, fever, excessive bleeding, easy bruising, and/or tiny reddish spots on the skin.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 12,000 new cases of MDS each year, and the number of cases is increasing as the population ages. MDS is more common in men than women, and more than 80% of cases occur in people over 60.

A variety of laboratory tests are used to diagnose and classify MDS and to determine appropriate managements, which include bone marrow transplants (the only cure for the disorder) and drug treatment.

Below are links to several resources that can provide background information on MDS, including current and emerging tests and treatments.

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

(Revised 2012 January 12). American Cancer Society. Myelodysplastic Syndromes Detailed Guide. Available online at through Accessed June 2012.

(June 11, 2012) Yvonne Villareal. Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts battling blood disorder. Los Angeles Times. Available online at,0,198936.story through Accessed June 2012.

(June 26, 2012) Adam Bernstein. Nora Ephron, prolific author and screenwriter, dies at age 71. Washington Post. Available online at through Accessed June 2012.

(June 27, 2012) The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Mourns the Loss of Author and Filmmaker Nora Ephron. Available online at through Accessed June 2012.