Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in childhood is considered to be very rare, but sound epidemiologic data are lacking. We report a population-based study of MDS in Denmark from 1980 to 1991. The medical charts were reviewed of 988 children identified from the Danish National Hospital Discharge Registry with a diagnosis of myeloid leukemia or blood cytopenia. Blood and bone marrow smears from all cases of possible MDS were re-evaluated. The cases were categorized according to the FAB classification, with the exception of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) in which more than 5% myeloblasts in the blood was accepted. Juvenile chronic myeloid leukemia (JCML) was included as CMML. MDS was diagnosed in 46 children representing 9% of all hematologic malignancies in children less than 15 years of age. The annual incidence was 4.0/million and did not increase with time. Refractory anemia with excess of blasts and CMML each accounted for one third of the cases. Down syndrome was present in seven children. Other predisposing conditions included Fanconi anemia, neurofibromatosis, constitutional trisomy 8 mosaicism, and familial leukemia. Only one child had therapy-related MDS. The study indicates that the incidence of childhood MDS is higher than generally assumed and approximate to the incidence of acute myeloid leukemia.