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Doctor prepping patient for bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is the primary form of treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)—a group of cancerous diseases that affect the blood and bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of bones that produces:

  • Platelets to help clot blood and limit bleeding
  • Red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body
  • White blood cells to help the immune system fight infections

MDS causes the blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow to produce abnormal platelets and red and white blood cells, triggering symptoms like weakness, dizziness, frequent infections and easy bruising and bleeding. In some cases, MDS can progress into acute myeloid leukemia (AML)—a fast-growing cancer that affects bone marrow cells. 

Bone marrow transplantation (sometimes referred to stem cell transplantation) is currently the only potentially curative treatment option for MDS. Even if it cannot cure the disease, it can help lessen the symptoms and reduce the chance of relapse. There are two main types of bone marrow transplants:

  • Allogenic transplantation. Most often used to treat MDS, an allogenic transplant involves replacing damaged bone marrow with healthy blood-forming stem cells from a donor, such as a family member or friend who has a compatible blood type.
  • Autologous transplantation. This type of transplant is not common among MDS patients, as it involves re-administering potentially abnormal stem cells that were obtained from the patient’s body prior to treatment.

What happens during a bone marrow transplant for MDS?

The treatment process begins with high-dose chemotherapy to destroy unhealthy cells in the bone marrow. In some cases, chemotherapy may be replaced or combined with radiation therapy. After being administered to the patient through an intravenous (IV) catheter, healthy stem cells then migrate to the inside of the bones, where they may begin to produce new, properly functioning blood cells. The chemotherapy and transplant process from beginning to end may last several weeks or months.

Other MDS treatment options

Not every person with MDS is a candidate for traditional bone marrow transplantation. Because the high-dose chemotherapy that is often necessary prior to the procedure can be taxing, bone marrow transplants are most commonly recommended for young patients who are otherwise healthy. For older patients, lower doses of chemotherapy may be given before a non-curative procedure  known as a non-myeloablative allogenic stem cell transplant, which is intended to reduce symptoms and promote new blood cell growth.

Patients who are not candidates for bone marrow transplantation or elect not to undergo the procedure may receive a combination of treatments to manage their symptoms and improve their overall health. Patients may also receive blood transfusions to address related conditions such as anemia or take medications with growth factors to encourage more efficient red blood cell maturation.

MDS Treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Malignant Hematology Program features one of the largest MDS treatment programs in the country. Here, patients have access to a multispecialty team that collaborates with Moffitt’s renowned Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program to deliver comprehensive, world-class transplantation services and treatment.

Contact Moffitt at 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online if you would like to speak with an oncologist about bone marrow transplantation for MDS. We also welcome patients seeking second opinions or evaluation of potential MDS symptoms. Our team prioritizes timely responses and will contact you as soon as possible.