Myelodysplastic Syndrome Overview

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Treating Myelodysplastic Syndrome TOPICS

Immunotherapy for myelodysplastic syndrome

Immune modulating drugs

The drugs thalidomide and lenalidomide (Revlimid®) belong to the group of drugs known as immunomodulating drugs (or IMiDs). Thalidomide was used first in treating myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). It helped some patients, but many people stopped taking the drug because of side effects. Lenalidomide is a newer drug that has fewer side effects.

Side effects include:

  • Decreased blood counts (most often the white cell count and platelet count)
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Pain in the hands and feet from nerve damage
  • Serious blood clots

Because of concern that these drugs could cause birth defects, these drugs are only available through programs run by the companies that make them.


Drugs that suppress or weaken the immune system can help some patients with MDS. The drugs used most often are anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and cyclosporine. ATG must be given in the hospital because it can sometimes cause severe allergic reactions leading to low blood pressure and problems breathing.

Cyclosporine is taken by mouth. It was first used to block immune responses in people who have had organ or bone marrow transplants, but it has helped some patients with MDS. Side effects of cyclosporine include loss of appetite and kidney damage.

For more information about immunotherapy for MDS, see our more detailed document, Myelodysplastic Syndromes.

Last Medical Review: 02/27/2014
Last Revised: 04/03/2014