Myelodysplastic Syndrome Overview

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Treating Myelodysplastic Syndrome TOPICS

Stem cell transplant for myelodysplastic syndrome

A stem cell transplant (SCT) is the only treatment that can cure myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). In this treatment, the patient gets very strong chemotherapy (chemo) and perhaps radiation to kill cells in the bone marrow. Once the bone marrow cells are destroyed, the patient gets new, healthy, blood-forming stem cells. For patients with MDS, these new stem cells come from a donor – the best donor is a close relative such as a brother or sister. This is called an allogeneic stem cell transplant. If there is no matching family member to be a donor, sometimes a matched, unrelated donor may be used. Using stem cells from an unrelated donor has more risks than using stem cells from a relative.

Wiping out the bone marrow with high doses of chemo can lead to many severe and even life threatening side effects. This can make a regular allogeneic transplant too hard to take for older patients. A special type of transplant, called a mini-transplant (or a non-myeloablative allogeneic stem cell transplant) can sometimes be used instead. It differs from the standard approach in that low doses of chemo or radiation are used. It relies on the donor stem cells to kill the patient’s cancer cells. The lower doses of chemo make it easier on patients who are older. Side effects, though, are still a major problem with this low-dose method.

Right now allogeneic SCT is the only treatment that can cure some patients with MDS, but not all patients who get a transplant are cured. Also, patients may die from complications of this treatment. Your chance for cure is higher if you are young and your MDS hasn’t begun to change into leukemia. Still, doctors recommend waiting until the MDS is in a more advanced stage before thinking about a transplant.

If you would like more detailed information on SCT, please see our document Stem Cell Transplant (Peripheral Blood, Bone Marrow, and Cord Blood Transplants). You can read it on our website or get a copy by calling 1-800-227-2345.


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