Myelodysplastic Syndromes - MDS: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2023

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

What are the risk factors for MDS?

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.

Sex. 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, or passed from parent to child within a family. However, some genetic changes may increase a person’s risk of developing MDS or other similar disorders, such as AML. This increased risk is called a germline predisposition.

Many of these genetic changes are linked with the inherited genetic conditions listed below, with the specific genes involved, when known. Research continues to identify other likely genetic factors.

  • Myeloid neoplasms with germline predisposition without a pre-existing platelet disorder or organ dysfunction

    • Germline CEBPA Pathogenic (P)/Likely Pathogenic (LP) variant (CEBPA-associated familial AML)

    • Germline DDX41 P/LP variant

    • Germline TP53 P/LP variant (Li-Fraumeni syndrome)

  • Myeloid neoplasms with germline predisposition and pre-existing platelet disorder

    • Germline RUNX1 P/LP variant (familial platelet disorder with associated myeloid malignancy, FPD-MM)

    • Germline ANKRD26 P/LP variant (Thrombocytopenia 2)

    • Germline ETV6 P/LP variant (Thrombocytopenia 5)

  • Myeloid neoplasms with germline predisposition and potential organ dysfunction

    • Germline GATA2 P/LP variant (GATA2-deficiency)

    • Bone marrow failure syndromes

      • Severe congenital neutropenia (SCN)

      • Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS)

      • Fanconi anemia (FA)

    • Telomere biology disorders

    • RASopathies (Neurofibromatosis Type 1, CBL syndrome, Noonan syndrome, or Noonan syndrome-like disorders)

    • Down syndrome

    • Germline SAMD9 P/LP variant (MIRAGE Syndrome)

    • Germline SAMD9 P/LP variant (SAMDL-related Ataxia Pancytopenia Syndrome)

    • Biallelic germline BLM P/LP variant (Bloom syndrome)

You should let your doctor know if other people in your family have been diagnosed with any type of cancer, especially myeloid diseases.

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