Common Treatment Options

Common Treatment Options

If you have more severe symptoms of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), your doctor is likely to recommend treatment that goes beyond supportive care. This page describes some of the more common treatment options.

Drug Treatment

Three drugs are used to treat MDS.

  • Lenalidomide (Revlimid), given as a pill, is used to reduce the need for transfusions. (Transfusions may be part of supportive care.)
  • Azacitidine (Vidaza), given as an injection or an infusion, may help increase red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, and reduce blasts (very immature abnormal cells).
  • Decitabine (Dacogen), given as an infusion, may be toxic to abnormal MDS cells and promote growth of normal blood cells.

Many questions remain as to how azacitidine and decitabine can be used most effectively. Clinical studies are going on to try to answer those questions.

Leukemia-Type Chemotherapy

Doctors may use intensive anti-cancer drugs, or chemotherapy, like that used for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), to kill myelodysplastic cells and control MDS. Chemotherapy may be given intravenously, by mouth, or directly into your spinal fluid (if you need treatment in your central nervous system, which is rare in patients with MDS). These medicines are distributed throughout your body through your bloodstream. They can help control your body’s production of abnormal blood cells. Chemotherapy for MDS can lower blood cells counts at first but may lead to remission (a period of no detectable disease activity). Read more about chemotherapy for AML.

Side effects are an important concern for many people receiving chemotherapy. Besides killing cancer cells, chemotherapy can damage healthy tissue and cause side effects like fatigue, hair loss, digestive problems, mouth sores, and skin irritation. Your doctor will talk with you about the specific side effects you might develop and what to watch for. We will help you take the best possible care of yourself to prevent, minimize, or relieve side effects so you can focus your energy on your recovery.

American Cancer Society
Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation
National Cancer Institute
National Comprehensive Cancer Network