Stages & Treatment of Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Stages of Myelodysplastic Syndromes

There is no staging system for myelodysplastic syndromes. Treatment is based on whether the disease developed after the patient was exposed to factors that cause myelodysplastic syndrome or whether the disease was previously treated. Myelodysplastic syndromes are grouped for treatment as follows:
  • De novo myelodysplastic syndromes–De novo myelodysplastic syndromes develop without any known cause.
  • Secondary myelodysplastic syndromes— Secondary myelodysplastic syndromes develop after the patient was treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for other diseases or after being exposed to radiation or certain chemicals that are linked to the development of myelodysplastic syndromes. Secondary myelodysplastic syndromes may be harder to treat than de novo myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Previously treated myelodysplastic syndromes— The myelodysplastic syndrome has been treated but has not gotten better.


Three types of standard treatment are used:
  • Chemotherapy
  • Supportive care
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant


In myelodysplastic syndromes, chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of immature blood cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the disease being treated.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care may include the following:
  • Transfusion therapy — Transfusion therapy (blood transfusion) is a method of giving red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets to replace blood cells destroyed by disease or treatment.
  • Growth factor therapy— Erythropoietin may be given to increase the number of red blood cells and lessen the effects of anemia. Sometimes granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) is given with erythropoietin to help the treatment work well.
  • Drug therapy— Deferoxamine may be used to treat the build-up of too much iron in the blood of patients receiving blood transfusions. It is sometimes given with vitamin C. Lenalidomide may be used to lessen the need for transfusions in patients who have myelodysplastic syndrome caused by a specific chromosome change. Antithymocyte globulin (ATG) may also be used to lessen the need for transfusions in patients with a certain form of myelodysplastic syndrome. Antibiotics may be given to fight infections.

Chemotherapy With Stem Cell Transplant

Stem cell transplant is a method of giving chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of a donor and are frozen for storage. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body’s blood cells.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are part of the medical research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment. Many of today’s standard treatments for disease are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.


Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the disease may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the disease has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
National Cancer Institute