Myelodysplastic Syndromes: Iron Overload Consequences and Current Chelating Therapies

Chronic red blood cell transfusion support in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) is often necessary but may cause hemosiderosis and its consequences. The pathophysiologic effects of iron overload relate to increased non-transferrin bound iron generating toxic oxygen free radicals. Studies in patients with MDS and thalassemia major have shown adverse clinical effects of chronic iron overload on cardiac function in patients who underwent polytransfusion. Iron chelation therapy in patients with thalassemia who were effectively chelated has prevented or partially reversed some of these consequences. A small group of patients with MDS who had undergone effective subcutaneous desferrioxamine (DFO) chelation for 1 to 4 years showed substantial hematologic improvements, including transfusion independence. However, because chronic lengthy subcutaneous infusions of DFO in elderly patients have logistic difficulties, this chelation therapy is generally instituted late in the clinical course. Two oral iron chelators, deferiprone (L1) and deferasirox (ICL670), provide potentially useful treatment for iron overload. This article reviews data indicating that both agents are relatively well tolerated, were at least as effective as DFO for decreasing iron burdens in comparative thalassemia trials, and (for deferiprone) were associated with improved cardiac outcomes. These outcomes could potentially alter the tissue siderosis-associated morbidity of patients with MDS, particularly those with pre-existing cardiac disease.

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Correspondence: Peter Greenberg, MD, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University Cancer Center, 875 Blake Wilbur Drive, Room 2335, Stanford, CA 94305-5821. E-mail: peterg@stanford.edu.

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