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Managing myelodysplastic symptoms in elderly patients

Authors Ria R, Moschetta M, Reale A, Mangialardi G, Castrovilli A, Vacca A, Dammacco F

Published 15 October 2009 Volume 2009:4 Pages 413—423

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S5203

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

R Ria, M Moschetta, A Reale, G Mangialardi, A Castrovilli, A Vacca, F Dammacco

Department of Biomedical Sciences and Human Oncology, Section of Internal Medicine and Clinical Oncology, University of Bari Medical School, Bari, Italy

Abstract: Most patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are elderly (median age range 65 to 70 years); as a consequence, the incidence and prevalence of these diseases are rising as the population ages. Physicians are often uncertain about how to identify patients who may benefit from specific treatment strategies. The International Prognostic Scoring System is a widely used tool to assess the risk of transformation to leukemia and to guide treatment decisions, but it fails to take into account many aspects of treating elderly patients, including comorbid illnesses, secondary causes of MDS, prior therapy for MDS, and other age-related health, functional, cognitive, and social problems that affect the outcome and managing of myelodysplastic symptoms. Patients with low-risk disease traditionally have been given only best supportive care, but evidence is increasing that treatment with novel non-conventional drugs such as lenalidomide or methyltransferase inhibitors may influence the natural history of the disease and should be used in conjunction with supportive-care measures. Supportive care of these patients could also be improved in order to enhance their quality of life and functional performance. Elderly patients commonly have multiple medical problems and use medications to deal with these. In addition, they are more likely to have more than one health care provider. These factors all increase the risk of drug interactions and the consequent treatment of toxicities. Manifestations of common toxicities or illnesses may be more subtle in the elderly, owing to age-associated functional deficits in multiple organ systems. Particularly important to the elderly MDS patient is the age-related decline in normal bone marrow function, including the diminished capacity of response to stressors such as infection or myelosuppressive treatments. Through the integration of geriatric and oncological strategies, a personalized approach toward this unique population may be applied. As with many diseases in the elderly, reliance on family members or friends to maintain the prescribed treatments, including travel to and from appointments, may place additional stressors on the patient and his/her support network. Careful evaluation and knowledge of functional status, ability to tolerate treatments, effect of disease progression, and general overall health conditions can provide the best opportunity to support these patients. Immediate assessment of daily living activities may detect deficiencies or deficits that often require early interventions.

Keywords: elderly, myelodysplastic syndromes, novel agents, supportive-care, treatment strategies

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