Procedure

Myelodysplastic Syndromes Treatment- Cancer/Oncology

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Myelodysplastic Syndromes Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.

KEY POINTS

  • Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.

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

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

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

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

  • Certain factors affect prognosis and treatment options.

Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.

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

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.

In a patient with a myelodysplastic syndrome, the blood stem cells (immature cells) do not become mature red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets in the bone marrow. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

KEY POINTS

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

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

  • Three types of standard treatment are used:

    • Supportive care

    • Drug therapy

    • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant

  • New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

  • Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes may cause side effects.

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

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

  • Follow-up tests may be needed.

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 progressionof 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 plateletsto 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) chromosome abnormality 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.

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.

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:

    • Transfusion therapy.

    • 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.

 

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