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Myelodysplastic Syndromes

  • Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of diseases in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells. It is also called preleukemia or smoldering leukemia. Learn about myelodysplastic syndromes and find information on how we support and care for people with myelodysplastic syndromes before, during, and after treatment.


The Hematologic Oncology Center provides specialized care for all types of cancers of the blood, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia.

The center also includes the hematopoietic stem cell transplantation program, which is one of the largest and most experienced in the world.

To make sure your care is as seamless as possible, a dedicated team of clinicians, who are highly specialized experts in your type of blood cancer, will care for you throughout the treatment process, from diagnosis though long-term follow-up.

Your care team will include oncologists, surgeons, hematologists, physician assistants, nurses, and clinical social workers who are committed to delivering safe, high-quality patient care.  

We develop personalized, comprehensive treatment plans for all our patients, offering the latest therapies and supportive resources and taking your individual needs into account.

In addition to conventional treatment approaches, you may have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials that offer access to new, innovative treatments for your type of cancer.

A variety of services and programs also support your care, including nutrition services, emotional support and counseling, pain management, donor services for stem cell transplantation, and support for cancer survivors.

Learn more about treatment and care in the Hematologic Oncology Center 

Contact us 

New patients: See Center page for phone numbers by treatment program

All other inquiries: 617-632-6140 

Fax: 617-632-3730 

Information for: Patients | Healthcare Professionals

General Information About Myelodysplastic Syndromes

A myelodysplastic syndrome is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells and there are abnormal (blast) cells in the blood and/or bone marrow.

In a healthy person, the bone marrow makes bloodstem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time.

Anatomy of the bone; drawing shows spongy bone, red marrow, and yellow marrow. A cross section of the bone shows compact bone and blood vessels in the bone marrow. Also shown are red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and a blood stem cell.  
Anatomy of the bone. The bone is made up of compact bone, spongy bone, and bone marrow. Compact bone makes up the outer layer of the bone. Spongy bone is found mostly at the ends of bones and contains red marrow. Bone marrow is found in the center of most bones and has many blood vessels. There are two types of bone marrow: red and yellow. Red marrow contains blood stem cells that can become red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Yellow marrow is made mostly of fat.

A blood stem cell may become a lymphoid stem cell or a myeloid stem cell. A lymphoid stem cell becomes a white blood cell. A myeloid stem cell becomes one of three types of mature blood cells:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other substances to all tissues of the body.
  • Platelets that form blood clots to stop bleeding.
  • White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
Blood cell development; drawing shows the steps a blood stem cell goes through to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.  Drawing shows a myeloid stem cell becoming a red blood cell, platelet, or myeloblast, which then becomes a white blood cell. Drawing also shows a lymphoid stem cell becoming a lymphoblast and then one of several different types of white blood cells.  
Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

In a patient with a myelodysplastic syndrome, the blood stem cells (immature cells) do not become healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. These immature blood cells, called blasts, do not work the way they should and either die in the bone marrow or soon after they go into the blood. This leaves less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets to form in the bone marrow. When there are fewer healthy blood cells, infection, anemia, or easy bleeding may occur.

The different types of myelodysplastic syndromes are diagnosed based on certain changes in the blood cells and bone marrow.

  • Refractory anemia: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. The number of white blood cells and platelets is normal.
  • Refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. The red blood cells have too much iron inside the cell. The number of white blood cells and platelets is normal.
  • Refractory anemia with excess blasts: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. Five percent to 19% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts. There also may be changes to the white blood cells and platelets. Refractory anemia with excess blasts may progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). See the PDQ Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment summary for more information.
  • Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia: There are too few of at least two types of blood cells (red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cells). Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts and less than 1% of the cells in the blood are blasts. If red blood cells are affected, they may have extra iron. Refractory cytopenia may progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
  • Refractory cytopenia with unilineage dysplasia: There are too few of one type of blood cell (red blood cells, platelets, or white blood cells). There are changes in 10% or more of two other types of blood cells. Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow are blasts and less than 1% of the cells in the blood are blasts.
  • Unclassifiable myelodysplastic syndrome: The numbers of blasts in the bone marrow and blood are normal, and the disease is not one of the other myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with an isolated del(5q) chromosome abnormality: There are too few red blood cells in the blood and the patient has anemia. Less than 5% of the cells in the bone marrow and blood are blasts. There is a specific change in the chromosome.
  • Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML): See the PDQ summary on Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Treatment for more information.

Age and past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy affect the risk of a myelodysplastic syndrome.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get a disease; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get a disease. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes include the following:

  • Past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, fertilizers, and solvents such as benzene.
  • Being exposed to heavy metals, such as mercury or lead.

The cause of myelodysplastic syndromes in most patients is not known.

Signs and symptoms of a myelodysplastic syndrome include shortness of breath and feeling tired.

Myelodysplastic syndromes often do not cause early signs or symptoms. They may be found during a routine blood test. Signs and symptoms may be caused by myelodysplastic syndromes or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness or feeling tired.
  • Having skin that is paler than usual.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).

Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose myelodysplastic syndromes.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells and platelets.
    • The number and type of white blood cells.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the blood sample made up of red blood cells.
    Complete blood count (CBC); left panel shows blood being drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow using a tube attached to a syringe; right panel shows a laboratory test tube with blood cells separated into layers: plasma, white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.  
    Complete blood count (CBC). Blood is collected by inserting a needle into a vein and allowing the blood to flow into a tube. The blood sample is sent to the laboratory and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are counted. The CBC is used to test for, diagnose, and monitor many different conditions.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for changes in the number, type, shape, and size of blood cells and for too much iron in the red blood cells.
  • Cytogenetic analysis: A test in which cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances, such as vitamin B12 and folate, released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy; drawing shows a patient lying face down on a table and a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) being inserted into the hip bone. Inset shows the Jamshidi needle being inserted through the skin into the bone marrow of the hip bone. 
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. After a small area of skin is numbed, a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) is inserted into the patient’s hip bone. Samples of blood, bone, and bone marrow are removed for examination under a microscope.

    The following tests may be done on the sample of tissue that is removed:

    • Immunocytochemistry: A test that uses antibodies to check for certain antigens in a sample of bone marrow. This type of test is used to tell the difference between myelodysplastic syndromes, leukemia, and other conditions.
    • Immunophenotyping: A process used to identify cells, based on the types of antigens or markers on the surface of the cell. This process is used to diagnose specific types of leukemia and other blood disorders by comparing the cancer cells to normal cells of the immune system.
    • Flow cytometry: A laboratory test that measures the number of cells in a sample, the percentage of live cells in a sample, and certain characteristics of cells, such as size, shape, and the presence of tumor markers on the cell surface. The cells are stained with a light-sensitive dye, placed in a fluid, and passed in a stream before a laser or other type of light. The measurements are based on how the light-sensitive dye reacts to the light.
    • FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization): A laboratory technique used to look at genes or chromosomes in cells and tissues. Pieces of DNA that contain a fluorescent dye are made in the laboratory and added to cells or tissues on a glass slide. When these pieces of DNA bind to specific genes or areas of chromosomes on the slide, they light up when viewed under a microscope with a special light.

Certain factors affect prognosis and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The number of blast cells in the bone marrow.
  • Whether one or more types of blood cells are affected.
  • Whether the patient has signs or symptoms of anemia, bleeding, or infection.
  • Whether the patient has a low or high risk of leukemia.
  • Certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Whether the myelodysplastic syndrome occurred after chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.
  • The age and general health of the patient.

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with myelodysplastic syndromes.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes includes supportive care, drug therapy, and stem cell transplantation.

Patients with a myelodysplastic syndrome who have symptoms caused by low blood counts are given supportive care to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Drug therapy may be used to slow progression of the disease. Certain patients can be cured with aggressive treatment with chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant using stem cells from a donor.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

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. A red blood cell transfusion is given when the red blood cell count is low and signs or symptoms of anemia, such as shortness of breath or feeling very tired, occur. A platelet transfusion is usually given when the patient is bleeding, is having a procedure that may cause bleeding, or when the platelet count is very low.

    Patients who receive many blood cell transfusions may have tissue and organ damage caused by the buildup of extra iron. These patients may be treated with iron chelation therapy to remove the extra iron from the blood.

  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents

    Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) may be given to increase the number of mature red blood cells made by the body and to lessen the effects of anemia. Sometimes granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) is given with ESAs to help the treatment work better.

  • Antibiotic therapy

    Antibiotics may be given to fight infection.

Drug therapy

  • Lenalidomide

    Patients with myelodysplastic syndrome associated with an isolated del(5q) chromosomeabnormality who need frequent red blood cell transfusions may be treated with lenalidomide. Lenalidomide is used to lessen the need for red blood cell transfusions.

  • Immunosuppressive therapy

    Antithymocyte globulin (ATG) works to suppress or weaken the immune system. It is used to lessen the need for red blood cell transfusions.

  • Azacitidine and decitabine

    Azacitidine and decitabine are used to treat myelodysplastic syndromes by killing cells that are dividing rapidly. They also help genes that are involved in cell growth to work the way they should. Treatment with azacitidine and decitabine may slow the progression of myelodysplastic syndromes to acute myeloid leukemia.

  • Chemotherapy used in acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

    Patients with a myelodysplastic syndrome and a high number of blasts in their bone marrow have a high risk of acute leukemia. They may be treated with the same chemotherapy regimen used in patients with acute myeloid leukemia.

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.

This treatment may not work as well in patients whose myelodysplastic syndrome was caused by past treatment for cancer.

Stem Cell Transplant

Drawing of stem cells being removed from a patient or donor. Blood is collected from a vein in the arm and flows through a machine that removes the stem cells; the remaining blood is returned to a vein in the other arm.   Drawing of a health care provider giving a patient treatment to kill blood-forming cells. Chemotherapy is given to the patient through a catheter in the chest.   Drawing of stem cells being given to the patient through a catheter in the chest.  

Stem cell transplant (Step 1). Blood is taken from a vein in the arm of the donor. The patient or another person may be the donor. The blood flows through a machine that removes the stem cells. Then the blood is returned to the donor through a vein in the other arm.

Stem cell transplant (Step 2). The patient receives chemotherapy to kill blood-forming cells. The patient may receive radiation therapy (not shown).

Stem cell transplant (Step 3). The patient receives stem cells through a catheter placed into a blood vessel in the chest.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer 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.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer 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. This is sometimes called re-staging.

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 cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options for Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Standard Treatment Options for Myelodysplastic Syndromes  

Standard treatment options for myelodysplastic syndromes include:

  • Supportive care with one or more of the following:
    • Transfusiontherapy.
    • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents.
    • Antibiotic therapy.
  • Treatments to slow progression to acute myeloid leukemia (AML):
    • Lenalidomide.
    • Immunosuppressive therapy.
    • Azacitidine and decitabine.
    • Chemotherapy used in acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.

Treatment of Therapy-Related Myeloid Neoplasms  

Patients who were treated in the past with chemotherapy or radiation therapy may develop myeloidneoplasms related to that therapy. Treatment options are the same as for other myelodysplastic syndromes.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with adult myelodysplastic syndromes. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Treatment Options for Relapsed or Refractory Myelodysplastic Syndromes

There is no standard treatment for refractory or relapsedmyelodysplastic syndromes. Patients whose cancer does not respond to treatment or has come back after treatment may want to take part in a clinical trial.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with adult myelodysplastic syndromes. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

To Learn More About Myelodysplastic Syndromes

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about myelodysplastic syndromes, see the following:

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

This information is provided by the National Cancer Institute.

This information was last updated on June 11, 2014.

General Information About Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Incidence and Mortality

The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a collection of myeloid malignancies characterized by one or more peripheral blood cytopenias. MDS are diagnosed in slightly more than 10,000 people in the United States yearly, for an annual age-adjusted incidence rate of approximately 4.4 to 4.6 cases per 100,000 people.[1] They are more common in men and whites. The syndromes may arise de novo or secondarily after treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for other cancers or, rarely, after environmental exposures.


Prognosis is directly related to the number of bone marrow blast cells, to certain cytogenetic abnormalities, and to the amount of peripheral blood cytopenias. By convention, MDS are reclassified as acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with myelodysplastic features when blood or bone marrow blasts reach or exceed 20%. Many patients succumb to complications of cytopenias before progression to this stage. (Refer to the Pathologic and Prognostic Systems for Myelodysplastic Syndromes section of this summary for more information.) The acute leukemic phase is less responsive to chemotherapy than is de novo AML.


MDS are characterized by abnormal bone marrow and blood cell morphology. Megaloblastoid erythroid hyperplasia with macrocytic anemia, associated with normal vitamin B12 and folate levels, is frequently observed. Circulating granulocytes are often hypogranular or hypergranular, and may display the acquired pseudo-Pelger-Huët abnormality. Early, abnormal myeloid progenitors are identified in the marrow in varying percentages. Abnormally small megakaryocytes (micromegakaryocytes) may be seen in the marrow and hypogranular or giant platelets may appear in the blood.

Clinical Features

MDS occur predominantly in older patients (usually those older than 60 years), with a median age at diagnosis of approximately 70 years,[2] although patients as young as 2 years have been reported.[3] Anemia, bleeding, easy bruising, and fatigue are common initial findings. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Fatigue for more information.) Splenomegaly or hepatosplenomegaly may indicate an overlapping myeloproliferative neoplasm. Approximately 50% of patients have a detectable cytogenetic abnormality, most commonly a deletion of all or part of chromosome 5 or 7, or trisomy 8. Single-nucleotide polymorphism array technology may increase the detection of genetic abnormalities to 80%.[4][5] Although the bone marrow is usually hypercellular at diagnosis, 10% of patients present with a hypoplastic bone marrow.[6] Hypoplastic myelodysplastic patients tend to have profound cytopenias and may respond more frequently to immunosuppressive therapy.

Risk Factors

Approximately 90% of MDS cases occur de novo with no identifiable cause. Potential environmental risk factors for developing MDS include exposure to the following:[7][8]

  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Ionizing radiation.
  • Organic chemicals (e.g., benzene, toluene, xylene, and chloramphenicol).
  • Heavy metals.
  • Herbicides.
  • Pesticides.
  • Fertilizers.
  • Stone and cereal dusts.
  • Exhaust gases.
  • Nitro-organic explosives.
  • Petroleum and diesel derivatives.

Related Summary

A PDQ summary containing information about myelodysplastic syndromes in children is:

  • Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia/Other Myeloid Malignancies.


  1. Ma X, Does M, Raza A, et al.: Myelodysplastic syndromes: incidence and survival in the United States. Cancer 109 (8): 1536-42, 2007.

  2. Sekeres MA, Schoonen WM, Kantarjian H, et al.: Characteristics of US patients with myelodysplastic syndromes: results of six cross-sectional physician surveys. J Natl Cancer Inst 100 (21): 1542-51, 2008.

  3. Tuncer MA, Pagliuca A, Hicsonmez G, et al.: Primary myelodysplastic syndrome in children: the clinical experience in 33 cases. Br J Haematol 82 (2): 347-53, 1992.

  4. Gyger M, Infante-Rivard C, D'Angelo G, et al.: Prognostic value of clonal chromosomal abnormalities in patients with primary myelodysplastic syndromes. Am J Hematol 28 (1): 13-20, 1988.

  5. Tiu RV, Gondek LP, O'Keefe CL, et al.: Prognostic impact of SNP array karyotyping in myelodysplastic syndromes and related myeloid malignancies. Blood 117 (17): 4552-60, 2011.

  6. Nand S, Godwin JE: Hypoplastic myelodysplastic syndrome. Cancer 62 (5): 958-64, 1988.

  7. Du Y, Fryzek J, Sekeres MA, et al.: Smoking and alcohol intake as risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). Leuk Res 34 (1): 1-5, 2010.

  8. Strom SS, Gu Y, Gruschkus SK, et al.: Risk factors of myelodysplastic syndromes: a case-control study. Leukemia 19 (11): 1912-8, 2005.

Pathologic and Prognostic Systems for Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are classified according to features of cellular morphology, etiology, and clinical presentation. The morphological classification of MDS is largely based on the percent of myeloblasts in the bone marrow and blood, the type and degree of myeloid dysplasia, and the presence of ring sideroblasts.[1] The clinical classification of the MDS depends upon whether there is an identifiable etiology and whether the MDS has been treated previously.

Pathologic Systems

The World Health Organization (WHO) classification [2] has supplanted the historic French-American-British (FAB) classification,[1] as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Myelodysplastic Syndromes: Comparison of the FAB and WHO Classifications

FAB (1982)

WHO (2008)

Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Refractory anemia.

Refractory anemia.

Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia. Refractory cytopenia with unilineage dysplasia.

Refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts.

Refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts.

Refractory anemia with excess blasts.

Refractory anemia with excess blasts -1 and -2.

Myelodysplastic syndrome, unclassifiable.

Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with del(5q).

Reclassified from MDS to:

Refractory anemia with excess blasts in transformation.

Acute myeloid leukemia identified as AML with multilineage dysplasia following a myelodysplastic syndrome.

Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.

Myelodysplastic and myeloproliferative diseases.

AML = acute myeloid leukemia; FAB = French-American-British classification scheme; MDS = myelodysplastic syndromes; WHO = World Health Organization.

MDS cellular types and subtypes in either cellular classification scheme have different degrees of disordered hematopoiesis, frequencies of transformation to acute leukemia, and prognoses.

Refractory anemia (RA)

In patients with RA, the myeloid and megakaryocytic series in the bone marrow appear normal, but megaloblastoid erythroid hyperplasia is present. Dysplasia is usually minimal. Marrow blasts are less than 5%, and no peripheral blasts are present. Macrocytic anemia with reticulocytopenia is present in the blood. Transformation to acute leukemia is rare, and median survival varies from 2 years to 5 years in most series. RA accounts for 20% to 30% of all patients with MDS.

Refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts (RARS)

In patients with RARS, the blood and marrow are identical to those in patients with RA, except that at least 15% of marrow red cell precursors are ring sideroblasts. Approximately 10% to 12% of patients present with this type, and prognosis is identical to that of RA. Approximately 1% to 2% of RARS evolve to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Refractory anemia with excess blasts (RAEB)

In patients with RAEB, there is significant evidence of disordered myelopoiesis and megakaryocytopoiesis in addition to abnormal erythropoiesis. Because of differences in prognosis related to progression to a frank AML, this cellular classification is composed of two categories: RAEB-1 and RAEB-2. Combined, the two categories account for approximately 40% of all patients with MDS. RAEB-1 is characterized by 5% to 9% blasts in the bone marrow and less than 5% blasts in the blood. Approximately 25% of cases of RAEB-1 progress to AML. Median survival is approximately 18 months. RAEB-2 is characterized by 10% to 19% blasts in the bone marrow. Approximately 33% of cases of RAEB-2 progress to AML. Median survival for RAEB-2 is approximately 10 months.

Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia (RCMD)

In patients with RCMD, bicytopenia or pancytopenia is present. In addition, dysplastic changes are present in 10% or more of the cells in two or more myeloid cell lines. There are less than 1% blasts in the blood and less than 5% blasts in the bone marrow. Auer rods are not present. Monocytes in the blood are less than 1 × 109. RCMD accounts for approximately 24% of cases of MDS. The frequency of evolution to acute leukemia is 11%. The overall median survival is 33 months. Refractory cytopenia with multilineage dysplasia and ring sideroblasts (RCMD-RS) represents another category of RCMD. In RCMD-RS, features of RCMD are present, and more than 15% of erythroid precursors in the bone marrow are ring sideroblasts. RCMD-RS accounts for approximately 15% of cases of MDS. Survival in RCMD-RS is similar to that in primary RCMD.

Refractory cytopenia with unilineage dysplasia (RCUD)

In patients with RCUD, a single cytopenia is present, involving either erythrocytes, neutrophils, or platelets. In addition, dysplastic changes are present in 10% or more of the cells in two or more myeloid cell lines. There are less than 1% blasts in the blood and less than 5% blasts in the bone marrow. Auer rods are not present. Monocytes in the blood are less than 1 × 109.

Unclassifiable myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS-U)

The cellular subtype MDS-U lacks findings appropriate for classification as RA, RARS, RCMD, or RAEB. Blasts in the blood and bone marrow are not increased.

Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with an isolated del(5q) chromosome abnormality

This MDS cellular subtype, the 5q- syndrome, is associated with an isolated del(5q) cytogenetic abnormality. Blasts in both blood and bone marrow are less than 5%. This subtype is associated with a long survival. Karyotypic evolution is uncommon. Additional cytogenetic abnormalities may be associated with a more aggressive MDS cellular subtype or may evolve to AML.

Therapy-related myeloid neoplasms

The latest version of the WHO pathologic classification system identifies patients with therapy-related MDS or AML and places them in the same category as “therapy-related myeloid neoplasms.” This group of disorders evolves in patients who were previously treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for other cancers and in whom there is a clinical suspicion that the prior therapy caused the myeloid neoplasm. Classic chemotherapy agents associated with these disorders include alkylating agents, topoisomerase inhibitors, and purine nucleoside analogs.

Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML)

Although previously classified with the myelodysplastic syndromes, CMML is now assigned to a group of overlap myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms for more information.)

Prognostic Scoring Systems

A variety of pathologic and risk classification systems have been developed to predict the overall survival of patients with MDS and the evolution from MDS to AML. Major prognostic classification systems include the International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS), revised as the IPSS-R;[3] the WHO Prognostic Scoring System (WPSS); and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Prognostic Scoring Systems.[4][5] Clinical variables in these systems have included bone marrow and blood myeloblast percentage, specific cytopenias, transfusion requirements, age, performance status, and bone marrow cytogenetic abnormalities.


The IPSS incorporates bone marrow blast percentage, number of peripheral blood cytopenias, and cytogenetic risk group.


Compared with the IPSS, the IPSS-R updates and gives greater weight to cytogenetic abnormalities and severity of cytopenias, while reassigning the weighting for blast percentages.[3]


In contrast to the IPSS and IPSS-R, which should be applied only at the time of diagnosis, the WPSS is dynamic, meaning that patients can be reassigned categories as their disease progresses.

MD Anderson

The MD Anderson Cancer Center has published two prognostic scoring systems, one of which is focused on lower-risk patients.[4][5]


  1. Bennett JM, Catovsky D, Daniel MT, et al.: Proposals for the classification of the myelodysplastic syndromes. Br J Haematol 51 (2): 189-99, 1982.

  2. Vardiman JW, Thiele J, Arber DA, et al.: The 2008 revision of the World Health Organization (WHO) classification of myeloid neoplasms and acute leukemia: rationale and important changes. Blood 114 (5): 937-51, 2009.

  3. Greenberg PL, Tuechler H, Schanz J, et al.: Revised international prognostic scoring system for myelodysplastic syndromes. Blood 120 (12): 2454-65, 2012.

  4. Garcia-Manero G, Shan J, Faderl S, et al.: A prognostic score for patients with lower risk myelodysplastic syndrome. Leukemia 22 (3): 538-43, 2008.

  5. Kantarjian H, O'Brien S, Ravandi F, et al.: Proposal for a new risk model in myelodysplastic syndrome that accounts for events not considered in the original International Prognostic Scoring System. Cancer 113 (6): 1351-61, 2008.

Treatment for Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Therapies for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are initiated in patients with a shorter predicted survival or in patients with clinically significant cytopenias. The impact of most MDS therapies on survival remains unproven.

Standard treatment options:

  • Supportive care.
  • Disease-modifying agents.
    • Lenalidomide.
    • Immunosuppressive therapy.
    • DNA methyltransferase inhibitors.
    • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) induction-type chemotherapy.
  • Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

Supportive Care

The mainstay of treatment for MDS has traditionally been supportive care, particularly for those patients with symptomatic cytopenias or who are at high risk of infection or bleeding.[1][2] Transfusions are reserved for the treatment of active bleeding; many centers offer prophylactic platelet transfusions for patients with platelet counts lower than 10,000/mm3. Anemia should be treated with red-cell transfusions to avoid symptoms. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Fatigue for more information on anemia.)

No prospective trials have demonstrated the benefit of prophylactic use of myeloid growth factors in asymptomatic neutropenic MDS patients. Similarly, the use of prophylactic antibiotics in such patients is of uncertain benefit. While appropriate use of antibiotics in febrile patients is standard clinical practice, the benefit of myeloid growth factors in such settings is unknown.

The use of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) may improve anemia. The likelihood of response to exogenous erythropoietin administration is dependent on the pretreatment serum erythropoietin level and on baseline transfusion needs.

In a meta-analysis summarizing the data on erythropoietin in 205 patients with MDS from 17 studies, responses were most likely in patients who were anemic but who did not yet require a transfusion, patients who did not have ring sideroblasts, and patients who had a serum erythropoietin level lower than 200 u/L.[3] Effective treatment requires substantially higher doses of erythropoietin than are used for other indications; the minimum effective dose studied is 60,000 IU per week.[4] The use of high-dose darbepoetin (300 µg/dose weekly or 500 µg/dose every 2–3 weeks) has been reported to produce a major erythroid response rate of almost 50% in patients whose endogenous erythropoietin level was lower than 500 µ/mL.[5][6] Most studies discontinued ESAs in patients who failed to show hematologic improvement after 3 to 4 months of therapy. Average response duration is approximately 2 years.[7]

One decision model found that the likelihood of responding to growth factors was higher in patients with a low serum erythropoietin level (defined as a level <500/µL) and low transfusion needs (defined as <2 units of packed red blood cells every month), but growth factors were rarely effective in patients with a high erythropoietin level and high transfusion needs.[8] Some patients with poor response to erythropoietin alone may have improved response with the addition of low doses of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) (0.5–1.0 µg/kg/day).[9][10][11] Rates of response to the combination treatment vary with classification, with responses more likely in patients with refractory anemia and ring sideroblasts (RARS) and less likely in patients with excess blasts.[7] Patients with RARS are unlikely to respond to erythropoietin alone.[3]

The availability of the oral iron-chelating agent deferasirox has led to its widespread use in MDS patients. While some consensus panels advocate prophylactic iron chelation in patients with ongoing transfusion needs and substantial transfusion history, the impact of iron chelation on survival and disease progression is unknown.[12]

Disease-Modifying Agents

Lower-risk patients (conventionally defined as International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS) low-risk and intermediate-1–risk groups) who have failed to respond or have ceased responding to ESAs may be treated with one of several disease-modifying agents. The impact of this practice on survival in lower-risk patients is unknown. Whether these drugs should be used following an ESA failure or as up-front therapy has never been determined. In contrast, in higher-risk patients, azacitidine has been shown to improve survival. (Refer to the DNA methyltransferase inhibitors section of this summary for more information.)


Lenalidomide is FDA-approved for the treatment of lower-risk, transfusion-dependent MDS patients who harbor a del(5q) cytogenic abnormality. In a phase II registration study of 148 transfusion-dependent low-risk and intermediate-1–risk patients with del(5q) chromosomal abnormalities (alone, or associated with other abnormalities), lenalidomide induced transfusion independence in 67%, with a median time to response of 4 to 5 weeks.[13] The median duration of transfusion independence had not been reached after a median of 104 weeks of follow-up. Of 62 evaluable patients, 38 patients developed complete cytogenetic remission.

Lenalidomide administration is limited by dose-limiting neutropenia and thrombocytopenia.[14][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Treatment-related thrombocytopenia also correlated with cytogenetic responses, emphasizing the importance of successful suppression of the del(5q) clone with lenalidomide to achieve meaningful responses.[15]

A subsequent phase III study randomly assigned lower-risk del(5q) MDS patients to receive placebo and lenalidomide at either 5 mg daily for 28 days or 10 mg daily for 21 days of a 28-day cycle.[16] Transfusion independence responses lasting longer than 6 months occurred in 43% to 52% of subjects treated on the lenalidomide arms, compared with 6% of controls. The cytogenetic response rate was 25% to 50% on the active treatment arms, and the 3-year risk of AML transformation was 25%.

Lenalidomide has limited activity in lower-risk, red blood cell transfusion–dependent MDS patients who do not harbor the del(5q) lesion. In a phase II study similar in design to the registration study, 56 of 215 patients (26%) achieved transfusion independence.[17] Median duration of response was 41 weeks (range, 8–136 weeks). Grade 3 or 4 myelosuppression occurred in only 20% to 25% of patients, and unlike for del(5q) patients, was not associated with subsequent attainment of a transfusion independence response to therapy.

Immunosuppressive therapy

Antithymocyte globulin (ATG) has shown activity in MDS patients in several small series. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute conducted a phase II trial including 25 MDS patients with less than 20% blasts. Of all the patients studied, 11 (or 44%) responded and became transfusion-independent after ATG (three complete responses, six partial responses, and two minimal responses).[18] Multivariate analysis identified HLA-DR-15 (phenotype) expression, briefer period of red cell transfusion dependence, and younger age as predictors of response to ATG.[19] One study used alemtuzumab to treat a heavily preselected population of lower-risk MDS patients, in whom the response rate was 80%.[20]

DNA methyltransferase inhibitors

The nucleoside 5-azacitidine and decitabine are inhibitors of DNA methyltransferase. Both drugs require prolonged administration before benefits are seen. The median number of cycles required to see first hematologic response to 5-azacitidine was 3; 90% of responders showed response by 6 cycles; and the median number of cycles of decitabine required to see first response was 2.2.[21] Azacitidine received FDA approval based on the results of a randomized trial that was not designed to study survival.[22]

A phase III randomized controlled trial (AZA PH GL 2003 CL 001 [NCT00071799]) of azacitidine versus other regimens, including low-dose cytarabine, AML-type remission induction chemotherapy, or best supportive care, was limited to patients with higher-risk MDS subtypes (IPSS intermediate-2 risk and high risk).[17] The median and 2-year overall survival (OS) favored the azacitidine arm, at 24 months versus 16 months (P = .0001) and 51% versus 26% (P < .0001), respectively.[17][Level of evidence: 1iiA] The FDA-approved azacitidine dose schedule used in this study (75 mg/m2 per day for 7 consecutive days) has proven inconvenient to some practitioners. A community-based study has suggested that alternate dosing schedules may provide similar hematologic benefits; however, the impact of such dosing schedules on survival is not known.[23]

While the azacitidine congener decitabine demonstrated similar activity in phase II trials, two randomized trials of decitabine versus supportive care failed to show a survival benefit.[21][24] Both decitabine studies used the FDA-approved dose schedule (15 mg/m2 every 8 hours for nine doses). In the European phase III study in higher-risk patients, median OS and a combined OS and delay in AML transformation endpoint were similar for patients in both the decitabine and best supportive care arms, at 10.1 months versus 8.5 months, respectively, for OS (P = .38) and 8.8 months versus 6.1 months, respectively, for the combined endpoint (P = .24).[25][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Decitabine can be given as daily intravenous or subcutaneous infusions at doses that differ from the original labeled schedule, with hematologic response rates that appear comparable to the phase III study.[26][27]

Both of these drugs have been approved for refractory anemia, RARS (if accompanied by neutropenia, or thrombocytopenia, or requiring transfusions), refractory anemia with excess blasts, and refractory anemia with excess blasts in transformation, though the highest response rates and levels of evidence have been generated in trials in which patients with higher-risk MDS (IPSS risk groups of intermediate-2 or high) have been treated.[28] In lower-risk patients, response rates appear similar to those in higher-risk patients, although the survival benefit is unknown. The use of these drugs in low-risk patients may preclude their subsequent use upon disease progression.

Combinations of azacitidine with lenalidomide [29] and vorinostat [30] are currently being compared with single-agent azacitidine in a national randomized phase II trial (S1117 [NCT01522976]).

AML induction-type chemotherapy

Induction chemotherapy typically used to treat AML may be used to treat patients with higher-risk MDS with excess blasts.[31] Low-dose cytarabine has benefitted some patients; however, this treatment was associated with a higher infection rate when compared with observation in a randomized trial. No difference in time to progression or OS was observed for patients treated with low-dose cytarabine or supportive care.

Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT)

Allogeneic HSCT is the only potentially curative treatment for MDS. Retrospective data suggest cure rates in selected patients ranging from 30% to 60%; outcomes varied with IPSS score at time of transplant, with inferior survival in patients with higher IPSS scores.[32][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] The role of cytoreductive therapy in reducing the blast percentage before HSCT remains uncertain. Outcomes may not be as good for patients with treatment-related MDS (5-year disease-free survival of 8% to 30%).[33]

Although HSCT represents the only treatment modality with curative potential, the relatively high morbidity and mortality of this approach limits its use. A decision analysis predating approval of azacitidine, in patients with a median age younger than 50 years, suggested optimal survival when transplant was delayed until disease progression for lower-risk patients but implemented at diagnosis for higher-risk patients.[34]

Allogeneic stem cell transplantation with reduced-intensity conditioning (RIC) has extended transplantation as a possible modality for treatment of older patients.[35] In a retrospective analysis of 1,333 patients aged 50 years or older (median, 56 years) who underwent allogeneic transplants for MDS using HLA-matched sibling and unrelated donors, 62% of the patients received RIC HSCT, and the others received standard-dose HSCT. On multivariate analysis, use of RIC and advanced disease stage at transplantation were associated with increased relapse (hazard ratio [HR] of 1.44 and 1.51, respectively).[35][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] The predictors of non-relapse mortality included advanced disease stage (HR, 1.43), use of an unrelated donor, and standard dose HSCT (HR, 1.27). The 4-year OS was similar in both groups (30% after myeloablative conditioning vs. 32% in RIC.[35]

Therapy-Related Myeloid Neoplasms

In the absence of prospective data, therapy-related myeloid neoplasms are treated similarly to de novo MDS.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with adult myelodysplastic syndromes. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Tricot GJ, Lauer RC, Appelbaum FR, et al.: Management of the myelodysplastic syndromes. Semin Oncol 14 (4): 444-53, 1987.

  2. Boogaerts MA: Progress in the therapy of myelodysplastic syndromes. Blut 58 (6): 265-70, 1989.

  3. Hellström-Lindberg E: Efficacy of erythropoietin in the myelodysplastic syndromes: a meta-analysis of 205 patients from 17 studies. Br J Haematol 89 (1): 67-71, 1995.

  4. Park S, Grabar S, Kelaidi C, et al.: Predictive factors of response and survival in myelodysplastic syndrome treated with erythropoietin and G-CSF: the GFM experience. Blood 111 (2): 574-82, 2008.

  5. Mannone L, Gardin C, Quarre MC, et al.: High-dose darbepoetin alpha in the treatment of anaemia of lower risk myelodysplastic syndrome results of a phase II study. Br J Haematol 133 (5): 513-9, 2006.

  6. Gabrilove J, Paquette R, Lyons RM, et al.: Phase 2, single-arm trial to evaluate the effectiveness of darbepoetin alfa for correcting anaemia in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. Br J Haematol 142 (3): 379-93, 2008.

  7. Jädersten M, Montgomery SM, Dybedal I, et al.: Long-term outcome of treatment of anemia in MDS with erythropoietin and G-CSF. Blood 106 (3): 803-11, 2005.

  8. Hellström-Lindberg E, Gulbrandsen N, Lindberg G, et al.: A validated decision model for treating the anaemia of myelodysplastic syndromes with erythropoietin + granulocyte colony-stimulating factor: significant effects on quality of life. Br J Haematol 120 (6): 1037-46, 2003.

  9. Hellström-Lindberg E, Ahlgren T, Beguin Y, et al.: Treatment of anemia in myelodysplastic syndromes with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor plus erythropoietin: results from a randomized phase II study and long-term follow-up of 71 patients. Blood 92 (1): 68-75, 1998.

  10. Hellström-Lindberg E, Kanter-Lewensohn L, Ost A: Morphological changes and apoptosis in bone marrow from patients with myelodysplastic syndromes treated with granulocyte-CSF and erythropoietin. Leuk Res 21 (5): 415-25, 1997.

  11. Negrin RS, Stein R, Doherty K, et al.: Maintenance treatment of the anemia of myelodysplastic syndromes with recombinant human granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and erythropoietin: evidence for in vivo synergy. Blood 87 (10): 4076-81, 1996.

  12. Greenberg PL, Rigsby CK, Stone RM, et al.: NCCN Task Force: Transfusion and iron overload in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 7 (Suppl 9): S1-16, 2009.

  13. List A, Dewald G, Bennett J, et al.: Lenalidomide in the myelodysplastic syndrome with chromosome 5q deletion. N Engl J Med 355 (14): 1456-65, 2006.

  14. List A, Kurtin S, Roe DJ, et al.: Efficacy of lenalidomide in myelodysplastic syndromes. N Engl J Med 352 (6): 549-57, 2005.

  15. Sekeres MA, Maciejewski JP, Giagounidis AA, et al.: Relationship of treatment-related cytopenias and response to lenalidomide in patients with lower-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. J Clin Oncol 26 (36): 5943-9, 2008.

  16. Fenaux P, Giagounidis A, Selleslag D, et al.: RBC transfusion independence and safety profile of lenalidomide 5 or 10 mg in pts with low- or int-1-risk MDS with Del5q: results from a randomized phase III trial (MDS-004). [Abstract] Blood 114 (22): A-944, 2009.

  17. Fenaux P, Mufti GJ, Hellstrom-Lindberg E, et al.: Efficacy of azacitidine compared with that of conventional care regimens in the treatment of higher-risk myelodysplastic syndromes: a randomised, open-label, phase III study. Lancet Oncol 10 (3): 223-32, 2009.

  18. Molldrem JJ, Caples M, Mavroudis D, et al.: Antithymocyte globulin for patients with myelodysplastic syndrome. Br J Haematol 99 (3): 699-705, 1997.

  19. Saunthararajah Y, Nakamura R, Nam JM, et al.: HLA-DR15 (DR2) is overrepresented in myelodysplastic syndrome and aplastic anemia and predicts a response to immunosuppression in myelodysplastic syndrome. Blood 100 (5): 1570-4, 2002.

  20. Sloand EM, Olnes MJ, Shenoy A, et al.: Alemtuzumab treatment of intermediate-1 myelodysplasia patients is associated with sustained improvement in blood counts and cytogenetic remissions. J Clin Oncol 28 (35): 5166-73, 2010.

  21. Kantarjian H, Issa JP, Rosenfeld CS, et al.: Decitabine improves patient outcomes in myelodysplastic syndromes: results of a phase III randomized study. Cancer 106 (8): 1794-803, 2006.

  22. Silverman LR, Demakos EP, Peterson BL, et al.: Randomized controlled trial of azacitidine in patients with the myelodysplastic syndrome: a study of the cancer and leukemia group B. J Clin Oncol 20 (10): 2429-40, 2002.

  23. Lyons RM, Cosgriff TM, Modi SS, et al.: Hematologic response to three alternative dosing schedules of azacitidine in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. J Clin Oncol 27 (11): 1850-6, 2009.

  24. Wijermans P, Lübbert M, Verhoef G, et al.: Low-dose 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, a DNA hypomethylating agent, for the treatment of high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome: a multicenter phase II study in elderly patients. J Clin Oncol 18 (5): 956-62, 2000.

  25. Lübbert M, Suciu S, Baila L, et al.: Low-dose decitabine versus best supportive care in elderly patients with intermediate- or high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) ineligible for intensive chemotherapy: final results of the randomized phase III study of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Leukemia Group and the German MDS Study Group. J Clin Oncol 29 (15): 1987-96, 2011.

  26. Issa JP, Garcia-Manero G, Giles FJ, et al.: Phase 1 study of low-dose prolonged exposure schedules of the hypomethylating agent 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (decitabine) in hematopoietic malignancies. Blood 103 (5): 1635-40, 2004.

  27. Kantarjian H, Oki Y, Garcia-Manero G, et al.: Results of a randomized study of 3 schedules of low-dose decitabine in higher-risk myelodysplastic syndrome and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. Blood 109 (1): 52-7, 2007.

  28. Kaminskas E, Farrell A, Abraham S, et al.: Approval summary: azacitidine for treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome subtypes. Clin Cancer Res 11 (10): 3604-8, 2005.

  29. Sekeres MA, List AF, Cuthbertson D, et al.: Phase I combination trial of lenalidomide and azacitidine in patients with higher-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. J Clin Oncol 28 (13): 2253-8, 2010.

  30. Garcia-Manero G, Estey EH, Jabbour E, et al.: Final report of a phase II study of 5-azacitidine and vorinostat in patients with newly diagnosed myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myelogenous leukemia not eligible for clinical trials because poor performance and presence of other comorbidities. [Abstract] Blood 118 (21): A-608, 2011.

  31. de Witte T, Suciu S, Verhoef G, et al.: Intensive chemotherapy followed by allogeneic or autologous stem cell transplantation for patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDSs) and acute myeloid leukemia following MDS. Blood 98 (8): 2326-31, 2001.

  32. Deeg HJ, Storer B, Slattery JT, et al.: Conditioning with targeted busulfan and cyclophosphamide for hemopoietic stem cell transplantation from related and unrelated donors in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome. Blood 100 (4): 1201-7, 2002.

  33. Witherspoon RP, Deeg HJ, Storer B, et al.: Hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation for treatment-related leukemia or myelodysplasia. J Clin Oncol 19 (8): 2134-41, 2001.

  34. Cutler CS, Lee SJ, Greenberg P, et al.: A decision analysis of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation for the myelodysplastic syndromes: delayed transplantation for low-risk myelodysplasia is associated with improved outcome. Blood 104 (2): 579-85, 2004.

  35. Schetelig J, van Biezen A, Brand R, et al.: Allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation for chronic lymphocytic leukemia with 17p deletion: a retrospective European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation analysis. J Clin Oncol 26 (31): 5094-100, 2008.

Relapsed or Refractory Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Lack of response or progression after the use of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents is not considered relapsed or refractory myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).

With the exception of the use of lenalidomide for low-risk patients with abnormalities of chromosome 5, there are no clinical trials informing the appropriate selection of current therapies for patients with specific subtypes of MDS. Patients who have ceased to respond or did not respond to one therapy are frequently offered another from the therapies described in the previous sections. Retrospective data suggest that patients who do not respond or have ceased responding to DNA methyltransferase inhibitors have a median survival of only 4 to 6 months.[1][2] Relapsed patients should be considered for enrollment in clinical trials.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with adult myelodysplastic syndromes. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Prébet T, Gore SD, Esterni B, et al.: Outcome of high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome after azacitidine treatment failure. J Clin Oncol 29 (24): 3322-7, 2011.

  2. Jabbour E, Garcia-Manero G, Batty N, et al.: Outcome of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome after failure of decitabine therapy. Cancer 116 (16): 3830-4, 2010.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

This information is provided by the National Cancer Institute.

This information was last updated on December 3, 2012.

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