expert roundtables

Perspectives on Newly Diagnosed MDS

by Andrew M. Brunner, MD; Courtney D. DiNardo, MD, MSCE; and Rami S. Komrokji, MD


In the treatment of patients with newly diagnosed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), there are opportunities for risk stratification, prognostication, and treatment planning. The approach is evolving, and clinical trials have an important role.


What is the current approach to managing newly diagnosed MDS?

Rami S. Komrokji, MD

Senior Member
Section Head, Leukemia and MDS
Vice Chair, Department of Malignant Hematology
Moffitt Cancer Center
Professor of Medicine & Oncologic Sciences
University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine
Tampa, FL

“For the newly diagnosed patient, the following 3 basic steps are important: establishing or verifying the diagnosis, MDS risk stratification, and tailoring the therapy based on our goals.”

Rami S. Komrokji, MD

For the newly diagnosed patient, the following 3 basic steps are important: establishing or verifying the diagnosis, MDS risk stratification, and tailoring the therapy based on our goals. Establishing or confirming the diagnosis up front is a crucial step. This may involve making sure that we are not missing a diagnosis such as certain nutritional deficiencies or other conditions that mimic MDS. Or, in some scenarios, we may look for other entities that can coexist with MDS, such as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria or large granular lymphocytic leukemia. Bone marrow aspiration, biopsy, and a good hematopathology review are integral to the diagnosis of MDS, and the cytogenetics and molecular information via next-generation sequencing are a part of the evaluation nowadays as well.

For risk stratification, the Revised International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS-R), which classifies patients into 1 of 5 MDS risk groups, is a good starting point. We are also increasingly aiming to integrate the molecular data (eg, data on somatic mutations) with the IPSS-R. Several models have been developed toward this end. Ideally, what we really need is a web-based calculator, and I think that this type of tool might emerge in the future—but we are not quite there yet. As part of the risk stratification and overall assessment of MDS, it is also important to incorporate patient-related factors, comorbidities, and functional status in a systematic way.

Once the first 2 steps have been completed, you can have discussions with the patient about treatment and tailoring therapy. The current goals of therapy for lower-risk MDS include treating cytopenias. We are largely treating the anemia, and the need for treating isolated thrombocytopenia or neutropenia is rare in the low-risk setting. In higher-risk MDS, the disease is clearly more life threatening, and we immediately entertain whether allogeneic stem cell transplantation should be considered. In patients who are not undergoing transplantation, hypomethylating agents are the standard of care. By the time of diagnosis, the majority of patients with higher-risk MDS do have profound cytopenias that will require treatment.

Courtney D. DiNardo, MD, MSCE

Associate Professor
Department of Leukemia
Division of Cancer Medicine
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX

“I would highlight the importance of considering allogeneic stem cell transplantation early on, even at the time of diagnosis, especially in newly diagnosed patients with high-risk MDS.”

Courtney D. DiNardo, MD, MSCE

I would highlight the importance of considering allogeneic stem cell transplantation early on, even at the time of diagnosis, especially in newly diagnosed patients with high-risk MDS. For most clinicians who are caring for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the question of going to transplant once they are in remission is built into the thought process and is firmly an important component of the treatment algorithm. For some reason, patients with MDS are less likely to be considered for transplantation until later on, perhaps upon referral to a major academic center after hypomethylating agent failure. When transplantation is considered later, some patients with MDS might be missing a window of opportunity that occurs prior to disease progression. 

The benefits of contemplating the possibility of transplantation early on relate not only to the disease and that window of opportunity but also to the fact that transplants require time for evaluation, planning, and preparation. We need to make sure that the patient is an appropriate candidate, is fit, and does not have underlying organ dysfunction so that the risks of transplant are mitigated. We also have to identify an optimal donor (ie, any potential HLA-identical sibling[s] or HLA-haploidentical sibling[s], as well as any unrelated donors in the registry), and this takes time.

Andrew M. Brunner, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Assistant in Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology
Center for Leukemia, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, MA

“There is a strong role for molecular testing up front in AML, and I believe that we are learning how to use serial molecular testing in MDS, although this is still a relatively young space in MDS compared with AML.”

Andrew M. Brunner, MD

My colleagues have nicely highlighted much of the evolving approach to MDS. In recent years, there have been efforts to develop a more nuanced approach—one that is similar to AML, for which several newer tools have emerged. Occasionally, in high-risk MDS, particularly for patients whose disease has AML-like features, the molecular strategies that are used in AML may come into play, but the supportive data for these strategies in MDS are less robust. There is a strong role for molecular testing up front in AML, and I believe that we are learning how to use serial molecular testing in MDS, although this is still a relatively young space in MDS compared with AML. Importantly, we want to consider allogeneic stem cell transplantation for our patients with MDS, and we want to reduce the risk of disease relapse after transplant if that is pursued. However, MDS is very heterogeneous, and further study is needed to better understand how to optimize the management of a patient's disease prior to transplant.

I completely agree that predictive models really add to our ability to set expectations with patients, but, unfortunately, we have only a few treatments at this time. We hope that our prediction models will become increasingly relevant as we add more therapeutics to our treatment armamentarium. It is important to sit down with a newly diagnosed patient and give them a sense of their journey ahead, but we are still in need of novel therapeutics. And, in that setting, it is always appropriate to consider clinical trials. Most ongoing phase 3 studies in MDS are mutation agnostic, but I think that we will all be very curious to see whether there are any subgroups that benefit from a particular investigational treatment, or whether there are any findings that might inform future clinical trials. For now, it is important to have the humility to recognize that we still have not improved upon therapies that were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration many years ago and to recognize how important it is to try to enroll more patients in clinical trials, so that we might “move the needle” in MDS treatment.


Aguirre LE, Komrokji R, Padron E. It is time to shift the treatment paradigm in myelodysplastic syndromes: a focus on novel developments and current investigational approaches exploring combinatorial therapy in high-risk MDS. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2021;34(4):101325. doi:10.1016/j.beha.2021.101325

Brunner AM, Esteve J, Porkka K, et al. Efficacy and safety of sabatolimab (MBG453) in combination with hypomethylating agents (HMAs) in patients (pts) with very high/high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome (vHR/HR-MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML): final analysis from a phase Ib study [abstract 244]. Abstract presented at: 63rd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 11-14, 2021.

Garcia JS, Swords RT, Roboz GJ, et al. A systematic review of higher-risk myelodysplastic syndromes clinical trials to determine the benchmark of azacitidine and explore alternative endpoints for overall survival [published correction appears in Leuk Res. 2021;105:106581]. Leuk Res. 2021;104:106555. doi:10.1016/j.leukres.2021.106555

Garcia-Manero G, Chien KS, Montalban-Bravo G. Myelodysplastic syndromes: 2021 update on diagnosis, risk stratification and management. Am J Hematol. 2020;95(11):1399-1420. doi:10.1002/ajh.25950

Komrokji RS, Ali NA, Sallman D, et al. Characterization of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) with T-cell large granular lymphocyte proliferations (LGL). Leukemia. 2020;34(11):3097-3099. doi:10.1038/s41375-020-0928-4

Moskorz W, Cosmovici C, Jäger PS, Cadeddu RP, Timm J, Haas R. Myelodysplastic syndrome patients display alterations in their immune status reflected by increased PD-L1-expressing stem cells and highly dynamic exhausted T-cell frequencies. Br J Haematol. 2021;193(5):941-945. doi:10.1111/bjh.17461

Volpe VO, Komrokji RS. Treatment options for lower-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. Where are we now? Ther Adv Hematol. 2021;12:2040620720986641. doi:10.1177/2040620720986641

Vyrides N, Douka V, Gavriilaki E, et al. Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria and myelodysplastic syndrome: disappearance of cytogenetic abnormalities. Cancer Genet. 2021;250-251:1-5. doi:10.1016/j.cancergen.2020.11.001

Zeidan AM, Garcia JS, Fenaux P, et al. Phase 3 VERONA study of venetoclax with azacitidine to assess change in complete remission and overall survival in treatment-naïve higher-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. J Clin Oncol. 2021;39(suppl 15):TPS7054. doi:10.1200/JCO.2021.39.15_suppl.TPS7054

More in MDS & AML



Update on Actionable Targets in the MDS and AML Disease Spectrum

Clinical Topic Updates by David Sallman, MD

Mutations in FLT3 and IDH1/IDH2 are among those that are currently actionable in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Trials of novel agents and combinati...READ MORE



Genomic Landscape of MDS and AML: Current Perspectives

Clinical Topic Updates by Harry Paul Erba, MD, PhD

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are part of a disease spectrum that is beginning to enter into the precision medici...READ MORE



Higher-Risk MDS and AML: Need for Treatment Without Intensive Chemotherapy

Patient Care Perspectives by Guillermo Garcia-Manero, MD

The US Food and Drug Administration approval of lower-intensity treatments, including hypomethylating agents (HMAs) and targeted and/or immunomodul...READ MORE

More In Oncology


Chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease: Biomarkers, Mediators, and Druggable Targets

Clinical Topic Updates by David Miklos, MD, PhD


Evolving Transplant Technology and Chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease

Patient Care Perspectives by Edmund K. Waller, MD, PhD, FACP


Advancements in the Management of Chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease

Expert Roundtables by Corey Cutler, MD, MPH, FRCPC; David Miklos, MD, PhD; and Edmund K. Waller, MD, PhD, FACP