What is myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)?
MDS is a group of diseases that affect the blood and bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside bones. In MDS, the blood-forming cells (stem cells) in the marrow slow down, or even stop, making the 3 types of blood cells:
Red blood cells – Carry oxygen throughout the body
White blood cells – Help fight infections
Platelets – Help the blood clot and stop bleeding
Most people with MDS will have anemia (low number of red blood cells) and may need blood transfusions. Some people also have low numbers of white blood cells and platelets.
There are many different types of MDS. Doctors look at cells in the blood and bone marrow to find out what type of MDS someone has. Some are mild and easily treated. Others are severe and life-threatening. Even mild MDS can become severe over time. Sometimes MDS can develop into a fast-growing, severe blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
How does blood or marrow transplant (BMT) work for MDS?
BMT, also known as a bone marrow transplant or blood stem cell transplant, can treat patients who have MDS, including older patients. It replaces the unhealthy blood-forming cells (stem cells) with healthy ones. For some people, transplant can cure MDS. For others, it may delay relapse (the MDS coming back).
Allogeneic transplant is the most common type of transplant for MDS. This uses healthy blood-forming cells donated by someone else to replace the unhealthy ones. These healthy cells can come from a family member, unrelated donor or umbilical cord blood. First, you get chemotherapy (chemo), with or without radiation, to kill the unhealthy cells. Then, the healthy, donated cells are given to you through an intravenous (IV) catheter. The new cells travel to the inside of your bones and begin to make healthy blood cells.
The entire process, from the start of chemo or radiation, until hospital discharge, can last weeks to months. This is followed by many months of recovery near the transplant center and at home. The transplant team will closely watch you to prevent and treat any side effects or complications.