Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a condition in which abnormal stem cells in the bone marrow interfere with the production of healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. They also create defective bone marrow cells, which then make abnormal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. If you have MDS, you probably have plenty of cells in your bone marrow but not in your blood.

If you have mild MDS that affects your normal activities just a little or not at all, your doctor may recommend “watchful waiting.” This means your doctor will see you regularly, do tests and watch to see if your condition gets better or worse. You might go for several years with no major health changes.

Another approach to MDS treatment is supportive care to help reduce symptoms. This may include:

  • Growth factors to increase your red blood cell, white blood cell or platelet counts and medicines to adjust your immune system
  • Blood transfusions to add red blood cells or platelets to your bloodstream if medicines do not increase your levels enough
  • Antibiotics to fight bacterial or fungal infections that your white blood cells cannot fight on their own
  • Antiviral drugs to fight certain viral infections that respond to these medicines

If you have more severe symptoms, your doctor will probably recommend more treatment. This may include chemotherapy, which can lower your blood cell counts at first but can lead to remission (a period when MDS activity cannot be detected), stem cell transplantation or other newer treatments.