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Myelodysplastic syndrome has several risk factors, the most common of which is a history of receiving chemotherapy. People who have taken certain chemotherapy drugs – especially when they have also received radiation therapy – may have a higher risk of developing a myelodysplastic syndrome than someone with no past history of cancer treatment. In fact, there is a special classification for myelodysplastic syndromes that are caused by prior cancer treatment; these are known as secondary or treatment-related MDS.

Patients who received chemotherapy as a form of treatment for the following conditions have the highest risk of developing a secondary myelodysplastic syndrome:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia

People with inherited syndromes such as Fanconi anemia, Diamond Blackfan anemia, familiar platelet disorder, severe congenital neutropenia or Shwachman-Diamond syndrome may also have a higher risk of developing a myelodysplastic syndrome due to the genetic defects that cause these conditions to develop. Additionally, these inherited syndromes are commonly treated with bone marrow transplants, which is often performed with a high-dose course of chemotherapy. This chemotherapy can further increase a person’s risk of developing MDS.

Additionally, a history of exposure to environmental and occupational carcinogens such as benzene, chemical fertilizers, nitro-organic explosives and diesel derivatives can also increase a person’s risk of developing a myelodysplastic syndrome. Studies have found higher rates of these syndromes among industrial workers such as plant and machine operators and assemblers, as well as in coal miners and agricultural workers. Regardless of a person’s occupational history, most cases are found in males over the age of 60 who are current or former smokers.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our researchers are dedicated to exploring the correlations between myelodysplastic syndromes and potential causes, such as inherited genetic abnormalities and acquired exposures. Each proven risk factor brings us one step closer to better methods for prevention and treatment.

Individuals who are concerned about having one or more risk factors for myelodysplastic syndrome can consult with our expert oncologists; referrals are not required. To schedule an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488, or complete our convenient new patient registration form.