The chemotherapy regimen used for MDS is often similar to that used for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The AML regimen is often used for MDS patients in either the intermediate-2 or high-risk category of the International Prognostic Scoring System.
During chemotherapy, you're given potent drugs that must be toxic enough to damage or kill leukemic cells. At the same time, they can take aim at normal cells and cause side effects. Yet, not everyone experiences side effects and people react differently.
At first, chemotherapy makes your blood cell counts worse. When your doctor plans your treatment, he or she takes this into account as well as:
- your overall health and whether you have any medical conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease or diabetes
- the severity of your MDS
Doctors commonly combine two or three chemotherapy drugs to treat MDS. Low doses are sometimes used. Each drug type works in a different way to kill the cancerous cells. Combining drug types can strengthen their effectiveness. You may be given the drugs as pills to swallow, by injection or through a catheter (a thin, flexible tube or intravenous line) surgically placed in a vein, normally in your upper chest.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles, usually several weeks apart in an outpatient setting. You'll need a number of cycles over six to 10 months. You may need to remain in the hospital for a short period during treatment if your therapy is particularly intensive or leads to infection or prolonged or severe decreases in blood cell counts.
Chemotherapy Drugs for MDS
Chemotherapy drugs commonly used for MDS include:
- cytarabine, also known as cytosine arabinoside and ara-C (Cytosar-U®)
- idarubicin (Idamycin®)
- daunorubicin (Cerubidine®)
- mitoxantrone (Novantrone®)
Chemotherapy rarely cures patients with the common types of MDS that have abnormal chromosomes 5 and 7. Researchers are studying newer drugs such as clofarabine (Clolar®) in clinical trials to treat both MDS and AML patients.
If you would like to read about these drugs individually, including information about side effects, click here.