What are the Treatments for MDS?

The main goal of MDS treatment is to increase the number of healthy cells in your blood (blood count). When your blood count goes up:

  • You are less likely to need blood from a donor (transfusion)
  • Your quality of life becomes better
  • Your symptoms are not as bad

Your doctor will look at several issues in finding the best treatment plan for you. These include:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your age
  • Which subtype of MDS you have 
  • Your IPSS (International Prognostic Scoring System) disease risk score
  • Other serious conditions or diseases you have
  • Whether someone is willing and able to donate matching bone marrow to you (preferably a family member)

Treatments for MDS have a variety of goals. They may:

  • Help healthy cells mature
  • Increase the number of healthy cells in your blood
  • Kill abnormal bone marrow cells 
  • Reduce the number of young white blood cells (blasts) in your bone marrow that have an abnormal shape, size, or appearance.

There are six general approaches used in the treatment of MDS depending on the type MDS you have and severity of your case. These may be divided into the following types:

  • Wait and watch is an approach your doctor might suggest if your blood counts aren't too low and your symptoms aren't too bad.
  • Supportive care helps you manage the symptoms of your MDS. Its goals are to increase blood counts, treat infections, and treat iron overload. Supportive care is often the best treatment for lower-risk MDS patients. A patient with lower-risk MDS:

    •     May or may not need blood transfusions
    •     Has a low or intermediate-1 risk IPSS score which is between 0 and 1.0
    •     Usually does not have an excess of blasts in the bone marrow

    Supportive care can increase blood counts. It can also reduce problems caused by infection and too much bleeding. This type of care includes the use of:

    •     Blood transfusions (red blood cells and platelets)
    •     Iron chelation to treat iron overload
  • Immunosuppressive therapy can lower your body's immune response.
  • Medicines approved specifically to treat MDS stop abnormal cells from growing and stimulate the growth of healthy bone marrow cells.
  • Chemotherapy treats MDS by using drugs that kill abnormal cells.
  • Bone marrow transplantation replaces damaged stem cells with healthy ones in the bone marrow.

Are clinical trials an option?

Scientists are always looking for new and better ways to treat MDS. They are conducting controlled clinical trials, also called research studies. The studies are often done at university medical research centers around the world. These studies:

  • Compare new treatments or new combinations of treatments with standard ones
  • Help scientists learn more about standard treatments
  • Test the safety and effectiveness of new treatments
  • If standard therapies have not improved your MDS, or if your MDS has returned after standard therapies, or even if you are not satisfied with how well standard therapies work, you may want to explore whether you may be eligible for a clinical trial.

    For more information, read Understanding Clinical Trials.