Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a complication of conventional antineoplastic therapy but has rarely been reported after autologous bone marrow transplantation (ABMT). We reviewed records of 206 patients who underwent ABMT for lymphoma at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) between 1974 and 1993. Of 206 patients who underwent ABMT for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) or Hodgkin's disease (HD), 9 patients developed an MDS or secondary acute leukemia between 5 and 60 months (median 34 months) post-BMT. Two patients had relapsed after transplant and received additional therapy before the diagnosis of MDS. They were censored from the statistical analysis, resulting in a cumulative incidence of 14.5% +/- 11.6% (95% confidence interval) at 5 years. Three patients (15.2% +/- 18.0%) had HD, and four (14.0% +/- 14.7%) had NHL. In vitro BM purging had no affect on the incidence of MDS, although patients receiving peripheral blood stem cells had a projected MDS incidence of 31% +/- 33% versus 10.5% +/- 12% if BM cells were used (p = .0035). The patients had received a median of 14 cycles (range, 6 to 40) of chemotherapy before autologous transplantation; Five of nine patients received radiation therapy before BMT conditioning, and all patients received radiation before the diagnosis of MDS. No BM cytogenetic abnormalities were evident pretransplant in three of three patients studied, and all nine had normal pretransplant BM morphology. All patients had morphologic BM findings typical of MDS, and six of six studied had clonal cytogenetic abnormalities. At the diagnosis of MDS, all nine patients were without clinical, radiographic, or autopsy evidence of recurrent lymphoma; Three of the nine patients have died from complications of cytopenias at 23, 36, and 45 months after transplant (3 to 10 months after the diagnosis of MDS), whereas 6 survive 8 to 63 months after transplantation (1 to 34 months post-MDS). These data emphasize the cumulative leukemogenic potential of standard and salvage radiation and chemotherapy regimens and highlight treatment-induced MDS as an important and frequent late complication of potentially curative BM transplant therapy.