Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a heterogeneous group of bone marrow disorders with a highly diverse clinical course. For lower-risk MDS patients, therapeutic objectives aim to correct chronic anemia and improve/maintain health-related quality of life (HRQoL). However, disease burden is often insufficiently recognized, and although some patients do not respond/lose response to standard treatment, many are treated late. This is the case for non-transfusion-dependent patients with symptomatic anemia, in whom delayed treatment initiation may lead to unnecessary morbidity. Current active treatment options for lower-risk MDS are limited. Standard care for lower-risk 5q deletion [del(5q)] MDS patients with anemia remains supportive, consisting of red blood cell (RBC) transfusions, iron chelation therapy, and treatment with erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) in the case of low serum erythropoietin levels. Response rates to ESAs range from 15% to 63%, whereas 56% to 67% of patients with del(5q) MDS achieve RBC transfusion independence with lenalidomide. Treatment options for patients' refractory to ESAs and/or lenalidomide, however, are limited. Frequent transfusions are associated with profound clinical, HRQoL, and economic consequences for transfusion-dependent patients. This review focuses on the multiple unmet clinical needs that exist in the treatment of anemia associated with lower-risk MDS and the current and future treatment options that may improve disease management and patient outcomes.
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