Myelodysplastic Syndromes - MDS: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing MDS. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease. Although risk factors often influence the development of MDS, most do not directly cause MDS. Some people with several risk factors never develop MDS, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing MDS:

  • Age. MDS occurs most often in people older than 60 and is less common in younger people. MDS is rare in children.

  • Gender. Men develop MDS more often than women.

  • Exposure to environmental/occupational hazards. Long-term exposure to benzene, tobacco smoke, insecticides, and other toxins may increase the risk of developing MDS.

  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Approximately 20% of people who develop MDS previously received chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This type of MDS is called secondary MDS (see Subtypes and Classification).

  • Genetics. Most often, MDS is not inherited, meaning passed from parent to child within a family. However, some genetic changes may increase a person’s risk of developing MDS. Many of these are linked with the inherited genetic conditions listed below, with the specific genes involved when identified. Research continues to identify other likely genetic factors.

    • Fanconi anemia

    • Familial MDS/AML (GATA2DDX41)

    • Thrombocytopenia 2 (ANKRD26)

    • Thrombocytopenia 5 (ETV6)

    • Familial aplastic anemia (SRP72)

    • Shwachman-Diamond syndrome

    • Diamond Blackfan anemia

    • Congenital neutropenia

    • Familial platelet disorder

    • Myeloid neoplasms with germline predisposition (ATG2BGSKIP)

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems MDS can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.