The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a heterogeneous spectrum of disorders requiring selective therapy based on patients' specific clinical features, predominantly their prognostic subgroups, age and performance status. Guidelines for management of patients with MDS have been generated by a number of national panels. This review focuses on evidence-based data supporting therapeutic approaches, which have also been recommended by the US National Comprehensive Cancer Network MDS Panel, with discussion of accessibility of recommended drugs in the US and in other countries. For lower risk disease (International Prognostic Scoring System Low and Intermediate-1) therapy is aimed at haematological improvement whereas for higher risk disease (Intermediate-2 and High) treatment focuses on altering disease natural history. Recent information regarding additional clinical and biological features has provided useful parameters for assessing disease prognosis that aid risk-based management decisions. The rationale for use of low versus high intensity therapies with these agents, including allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplantation, is discussed in detail.