Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a family of myeloid cancers with diverse genotypes and phenotypes characterized by ineffective haematopoiesis and risk of transformation to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Some epidemiological data indicate that MDS incidence is increasing in resource-rich regions but this is controversial. Most MDS cases are caused by randomly acquired somatic mutations. In some patients, the phenotype and/or genotype of MDS overlaps with that of bone marrow failure disorders such as aplastic anaemia, paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH) and AML. Prognostic systems, such as the revised International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS-R), provide reasonably accurate predictions of survival at the population level. Therapeutic goals in individuals with lower-risk MDS include improving quality of life and minimizing erythrocyte and platelet transfusions. Therapeutic goals in people with higher-risk MDS include decreasing the risk of AML transformation and prolonging survival. Haematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) can cure MDS, yet fewer than 10% of affected individuals receive this treatment. However, how, when and in which patients with HCT for MDS should be performed remains controversial, with some studies suggesting HCT is preferred in some individuals with higher-risk MDS. Advances in the understanding of MDS biology offer the prospect of new therapeutic approaches.
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