Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of diseases marked by abnormal production of blood cells by the bone marrow. Healthy bone marrow produces immature blood cells—called blasts—that then develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. MDS disrupts this normal process so that the bone marrow is overactive, producing many immature cells. These blasts, however, do not fully develop into mature blood cells. As a result, patients with MDS have fewer mature blood cells, and the cells produced may be abnormal and not function properly.

Failure of the bone marrow to produce normal cells is a gradual process. As such, MDS is primarily a disease of the aging and most patients are over 65 years of age. Some patients experience prolonged survival with MDS while approximately one-third will have their disease progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML that develops from MDS is a difficult disease to treat.

Treatments for MDS, which may be used alone or in combination, include the following:

  • Supportive care through administration of growth factors to stimulate immature cells to development into mature blood cells
  • Destruction of abnormal cells through administration of chemotherapy or immunotherapy at either low, conventional, or high doses, depending on the condition of the patient and the aggressiveness of their disease
  • Replacement of damaged bone marrow with healthy cells that develop into blood cells, a procedure called stem cell transplantation

About this MDS Treatment Information

The information contained on this site is a general overview of treatment for MDS. Treatment may consist of growth factors, chemotherapy with or without stem cell transplantation, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatment techniques. Multi-modality treatment, which utilizes two or more treatment techniques, is increasingly recognized as an important approach for improving a patient’s chance of cure or prolonging survival.

In some cases, participation in a clinical trial utilizing new, innovative therapies may provide the most promising treatment. Information about treatments for MDS that are being evaluated in clinical trials is discussed under Strategies to Improve Treatment.

Circumstances unique to each patient’s situation may influence how these general treatment principles are applied. The potential benefits of multi-modality care, participation in a clinical trial, or standard treatment must be carefully balanced with the potential risks. The information on this website is intended to help educate patients about their treatment options and to facilitate a mutual or shared decision-making process with their treating cancer physician.


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