Treating Myelodysplastic Syndromes

If you’ve been diagnosed with a myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), your treatment team will discuss your options with you. It’s important to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Treatment is based on the type of MDS, as well as the patient’s age and health. The different types of MDS vary in their prognosis and response to treatment.

Which treatments are used for MDS?

The main types of treatment for MDS are:

Treatment is based on the MDS risk group and other factors, and often more than one type of treatment is used. Doctors plan each person’s treatment individually to give them the best chance of treating the tumor while limiting the side effects as much as possible. To learn more, see General Approach to Treatment of Myelodysplastic Syndromes.

Which types of doctors treat MDS?

Based on your treatment options, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:

  • A hematologist: a doctor who treats disorders of the blood
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

Making treatment decisions

It's important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important things to consider include:

  • Your age and overall health
  • The type of MDS you have
  • The likelihood that treatment will keep your MDS under control (or help in some other way)
  • Your feelings about the possible side effects from treatment

You may feel that you need to decide quickly, but it’s important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have learned. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Myelodysplastic Syndromes.

Getting a second opinion

If time permits, getting a second opinion from a doctor experienced with treating MDS is often a good idea. This can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose. If you aren’t sure where to go for a second opinion, ask your doctor for help.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat MDS. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. See Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your treatment team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through treatment

Your treatment team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms. 

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.