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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Lifestyle changes may not directly affect the cancer, but can play an important role in overall physical and mental health. Some benefits include:

  • Help manage or lessen side effects of treatment.
  • Keep your immune system strong to aid in the fight against MDS or other illnesses.
  • Improve emotional outlook throughout diagnosis and treatment for MDS.
  • Decrease the risk of other medical problems that could complicate your health.

General Guidelines

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce your risk of infection
  • Make dietary changes
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage fatigue
  • Manage bleeding
  • Seek support
  • Comfort measures

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a known risk factor for many cancers and other health disorders. It can also increase the risk of complications from medical procedures and slow tissue healing.

When you quit smoking, the body immediately begins to repair itself. Quitting will help boost your immune system to help fight MDS and improve recovery from treatment.

Reduce Your Risk of Infection

MDS and its treatments reduce the body's ability to respond to infections. This can increase the risk of infection, or increase the severity of common infections, like a cold or the flu. To decrease the risk of infection:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. Carry hand sanitizer for times when washing is not convenient.
  • Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose to after coming in contact with surfaces or objects.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects often.
  • Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia.

Make Dietary Changes

A healthful diet can help your body and mind. Your diet can provide fuel to help your body function at its best, and nutrition to help tissue heal and recover. Mood and overall energy will also be better with proper nutritional support.

Cancer itself and some cancer treatments can reduce appetite. It becomes important to make the most of the calories that are eaten. A registered dietitian can help manage challenges that may be found with MDS, and its treatments and complications.

Exercise Regularly

If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to choose a safe exercise program. Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment including:

  • Boosting your energy level
  • Improving your immune system
  • Boosting your spirits and improving your emotional outlook

You may consider consulting with a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program. While adding exercise, be sure to balance rest and activities to prevent becoming too tired.

Manage Fatigue

Fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of MDS and its treatments. To help avoid getting overtired, prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones. It is important to allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. If needed, plan time throughout the day for rest.

If fatigue is affecting quality of life, talk to your doctor.

Manage Bleeding

Small injuries may become worse because of MDS. Spontaneous bleeding may occur from small wounds or while brushing your teeth. Bleeding may also come from your nose, rectum, vagina, or urinary tract. Report any bleeding to your doctor. Prolonged pressure on a bleeding site may eventually stop the bleeding, but medical treatment is needed to prevent it from recurring.

Seek Support

The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that can be difficult to handle. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, lifestyle changes, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. It is important to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional balance. Other sources of support include:

  • Religious community
  • Support groups for people with your type of cancer
  • Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families

Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.

Comfort Measures

MDS is especially difficult because it may be found in advanced stages, making it harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to ease cancer complications or choose to stop treatment completely. Depending on your circumstances, it may be realistic to begin end-of-life planning. Considerations may include:

  • Choosing home or hospice care
  • Financial decisions
  • Advance directives—includes legal issues, like wills, hospital orders for your care, and power of attorney for medical care and finances
  • Insurance coverage

If you need guidance, talk to a member of your healthcare team. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.

Revision Information

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website Available at: Updated October 2014. Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Myelodysplastic syndromes. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 12, 2015. Accessed June 22, 2016.