What are the risk factors for myelodysplastic syndrome?
A risk factor is anything that changes your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For instance, smoking is a risk factor for cancer of the lung and many other cancers. But risk factors don’t tell us everything. People without any risk factors can still get the disease. And having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease.
Although some cases of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) are linked to known risk factors, in most cases, the cause is unknown.
Risk factors for MDS
Earlier cancer treatment
Having had treatment with chemotherapy (“chemo”) is the most important risk factor for MDS. Patients who have been treated with certain chemo drugs for cancer are more likely to get MDS. Getting these drugs along with radiation treatment increases the risk even more. MDS is also seen in patients who have had stem cell transplants (bone marrow transplants) because these patients get very high doses of chemo. Still, only a small percentage of people who are treated with these drugs will go on to get MDS.
Some bone marrow problems are caused by changed (mutated) genes that have been passed on from one or both parents. People with these problems (called syndromes) are more likely to develop MDS.
In some families, MDS has been found to happen more often than would be expected.
Smoking increases the risk for MDS. Many people know that smoking causes cancers of the lungs and other organs, but few also know that it can affect cells that do not come into direct contact with smoke. Substances in tobacco smoke that cause cancer get into the bloodstream and can affect many parts of the body.
Radiation and certain chemicals
Radiation and certain chemicals have been linked to MDS. Being exposed to a lot of radiation (such as from an atomic bomb blast or nuclear reactor accident) increases the risk of developing MDS. Long-term workplace exposure to benzene and certain chemicals used in the oil and rubber industries can also increase the risk of getting MDS.
Age and sex
Age is a risk factor for MDS. This disease is rare in people younger than 40. Most cases are found in those older than 60. MDS is also more common in men than in women.
Last Medical Review: 11/12/2012
Last Revised: 11/12/2012