Treatment

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)

Your treatment options depend on the stage of cancer, your overall health and your preferences about treatment. In all cases, treatment should be individualized for you. Although cancers are classified into particular stages, each person is unique.

You do not have to rush to make a decision, so consider the options carefully. And, you should make sure that you communicate your beliefs and expectations about treatment to your doctor. Research shows that cancer survivors of all educational levels and backgrounds can have a hard time communicating with their health care team. One of the best ways to improve communication with your health care team is to prepare your visits so that you can best make use of the time.

A treatment plan is a way to deal with both the short and long term goals of managing your cancer. There are several treatment options for myelodysplastic syndromes, depending on the cancer stage and the patient’s age and general health. Patients have time for second opinions and to talk through all of their options with their doctors and develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs.

Standard Treatments for Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes aims to relieve symptoms, slow progression, and improve quality of life. Options range from supportive care that helps relieve symptoms to aggressive treatment that may slow or prevent progression of the disease.

Issues caused by low blood cell counts, such as fatigue and infections, may be treated with transfusions of blood products or the use of growth factors.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Chemotherapy
In myelodysplastic syndromes, chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of immature blood cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the disease being treated.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care may include:

Transfusion Therapy - This is a method of giving red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets to replace blood cells destroyed by disease or treatment. Platelet transfusions are usually given when the patient is bleeding or is having a procedure that may cause bleeding.

Growth Factor Therapy - Erythropoietin may be given to increase the number of red blood cells and lessen the effects of anemia.

Drug Therapy - An assortment of different drugs may be administered to treat the build up of blood, lessen the need for transfusions or fight infections.

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 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. 

Social networking and online support groups are important tools. Reaching out to others who have or have had similar experiences can provide you with valuable insights. Check out Cancer Support Community's The Living Room for more information on clinically faciliated support online. 

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