Today, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts announced on air that she has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disorder that affects the bone marrow. The announcement comes five years after Roberts, now 51, entered remission after a battle with breast cancer. Though she was teary in delivering the news, Roberts remained characteristically positive about her prognosis, stating, ” “Bottom line: I am going to beat this. My doctors say it and my faith says it to me.”
She noted that she chose today to alert the public to her condition, because she begins pre-treatment this afternoon. She will undergo a round of drugs to prepare her bone marrow for a transplant. Roberts’ older sister is, fortunately, a perfect donor match. The transplant will take place some time this fall, after which Roberts will be on leave for several months while her progress is monitored.
According to TIME Healthland, this disease is extremely rare, affecting around 10,000 people per year. Here are a few things to know about myelodysplastic syndrome:
What is myelodysplastic syndrome?
Myelodysplastic syndromes include a group of diseases in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells, according to the National Cancer Institute.
What causes it?
The disease is caused by poorly formed or dysfunctional blood cells. Normally, the bone marrow makes stem cells that develop into red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. In myelodysplastic syndrome, the stem cells don’t mature properly. The immature blood cells, or “blast cells,” die in the bone marrow or soon after they enter the blood, and crowd out healthy cells in the marrow. With fewer healthy blood cells, infections, anemia and bleeding can occur.
Doctors separate myelodysplastic syndromes into two categories: myelodysplastic syndromes with no known cause and myelodysplastic syndromes caused by chemicals and radiation. The former is easier to treat.
Risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes include:
- Being male or white
- Older age: most people with the disease are over age 60
- Past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation: Roberts said she contracted the disease through her breast cancer treatment
- Exposure to certain chemicals like tobacco smoke, pesticides and solvents
- Exposure to heavy metals, like mercury, or lead
ABC News president Ben Sherwood heralded Roberts’ courage and offered the network’s support:
We love Robin, the heart and soul of ABC News, and we’ll stand arm in arm with her as she fights this new battle. She is the captain of our GMA team; she has been the keystone of our recent victories; and she will lead the program for many years to come.
The news, which has been making the rounds all morning, has saddened viewers and colleagues alike, but here’s hoping for a full and speedy recovery.