Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Treatment

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A routine lab test may have showed something wrong with your blood cells. Or your life has been disrupted with symptoms like being tired all the time, fevers, night sweats, weight loss or severe pain. No matter how you're feeling, be assured. You have come to the right place.

At UVA Health, we have experts who focus specifically on myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN). These conditions vary widely but all affect the blood cells and the bone marrow — the factory that makes your body’s blood cells.

Our experts are national leaders in this field. This high level of expertise means we’ll know exactly what you're facing — and how at risk you are for developing acute leukemia in months or years.

Myelodysplastic Syndrome Treatment at UVA Health 

Our experts build lifelong relationships with their MDS and MPN patients.

Some of our patients come to us feeling well and just need to be closely watched. Others come with an urgent, life-threatening condition.

We'll get you an appointment as soon as possible, so you can take advantage of all we have to offer.

We have a designated MDS Foundation Center of Excellence, the only one in Virginia. This gives you access to:

  • Tools to assess the genetic profile of your disorder, so we can tailor the best treatment plan
  • Clinical trials that give you access to treatments before they become the new standard of care
  • Care by experts whose published research findings are helping to advance this field of medicine

If your condition turns into a blood cancer, you'll have the latest treatment available at UVA Heath's Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about our blood cancer expertise

Accurate Diagnosis Is Key & Our Specialty

Myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative neoplasms can be difficult to diagnose. People sometimes come to us with a misdiagnosis. This can lead to serious consequences. It’s important to start chemotherapy or other treatments at the right stage of the disease.

If treatment is started too early, this can leave fewer options as the disease progresses.  

We have the expertise to rule out other conditions, like a vitamin deficiency. Or we can give you a definite diagnosis of a blood disorder or cancer. This often means taking a close look at a tiny sample (biopsy) of your bone marrow.

The Benefits of Diagnostic Specialists

Getting a specialist to diagnose you makes a difference. Our experts do bone marrow biopsies on a regular basis. For our patients, this means:

  • Less pain 
  • A fast 10-minute procedure
  • No repeat biopsies, because we know how to get the best sample the first time
  • Results in days, not weeks, as we analyze all bone marrow biopsies onsite

Also, a hematopathologist will review your biopsy. This kind of specialist only looks at blood and bone marrow disorders.

What Are Myelodysplastic/Myeloproliferative Disorders?  

Sometimes called preleukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes include different types of blood cancers that happen when immature (stem) blood cells in the bone marrow do not form into healthy blood cells.

On the other hand, with myeloproliferative neoplasms, your bone marrow makes too many blood cells. Not all of these disorders are blood cancers. Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) has features of both.

6 Types of Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Primary myelofibrosis (also called chronic idiopathic myelofibrosis)
  • Essential thrombocythemia
  • Chronic neutrophilic leukemia
  • Chronic eosinophilic leukemia

These conditions are more common among men over age 60. We don't usually know the cause. But your risk increases with:

  • Past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation for cancer
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, fertilizers, and solvents such as benzene
  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury or lead

MDS: A Cancer of the Bone Marrow

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) occurs when the stem cells in the bone marrow don't function correctly. Hematologist/oncologist Michael Keng, MD, walks us through the ins and outs of this multi-faceted bone marrow disorder. View myelodysplastic transcript.

What Are Symptoms of Myelodysplastic Syndromes?

In some cases, you may not have symptoms. But you might experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or feeling tired
  • Skin that is paler than usual
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)

Symptoms of Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

Symptoms depend on the type of cell impacted:

  • Oxygen-carrying red blood cells
  • Infection-fighting white blood cells
  • Clot-forming platelets

Your symptoms can include:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Night sweats that soak the sheets
  • Unexplained fever
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Unexplained bleeding or unusual bruising
  • Joint pain
  • Bone pain

How Will UVA Treat My Condition?

Every person needs treatment unique to them. If you have to travel far for our expertise, we’ll partner with a doctor in your community to coordinate care close to home, whenever possible.

If you are at low risk for developing leukemia, we may just need to keep a close watch on your condition with regular check-ups and blood tests.

Depending on your condition and symptoms, you may need:

  • Growth factor therapy that stimulates the bone marrow to make more blood cells
  • Medication to decrease certain types of blood cells
  • Medication to prevent life-threatening blood clots
  • Blood-product transfusions if you have low red blood cell or platelet levels

If you need more aggressive treatment, you’ll have many options:

  • Chemotherapy that won’t upset your stomach or cause hair loss
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Immunosuppressive therapy
  • New types of treatment being tested in a clinical trial
  • High-dose of cancer-killing chemotherapy

See all of our advanced treatment options.

Clinical Trials for All Phases of Disease

Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify for one of our clinical trials. We offer trials for a wide range of MDS and MPN-related conditions with different leukemia-risk levels.

Many of our patients travel far to take advantage of treatments only available in a clinical trial. The trial may cover your costs if you need to travel to participate.

Learn more about our clinical trials.