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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition. It is possible to develop MDS with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing MDS. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your chance of MDS.

Factors that may increase your risk of MDS include:

  • Age—MDS is most common in people aged 65 years and older.
  • Gender—MDS most often occurs in men. However, a type of MDS associated with a missing chromosome (5q) is more common in women.
  • Genetic defects—Certain inherited diseases carry a higher risk of MDS development. Examples include:
  • Occupational or environmental exposures
    • Working in the petroleum, rubber, and agriculture industries, and exposure to certain chemical solvents, are associated with MDS.
    • Radiation from a nuclear bomb fallout increases the risk of many blood-related cancers, including MDS.
    • Radiation therapy, especially in combination with chemotherapy, is associated with with an increased risk of secondary MDS (MDS with a specific cause).
    • Lifetime exposure to radiation from medical and dental procedures may increase risk, but some tests and treatments may not be avoidable. Ask your doctor about any planned radiation exposure to determine if it is necessary.
  • Chemotherapy—Certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer increase the risk of secondary MDS. This is especially true in people who have a history of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) during childhood.


General information about myelodysplastic syndromes. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 12, 2015. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Myelodysplastic syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated January 13, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Myelodysplastic syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website Available at: Updated January 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.

Understanding myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). MDS Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2017.

What are the risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes? American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated February 10, 2014. Accessed June 21, 2016.

Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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