BACKGROUND: In recent years, epidemiologic studies have reported controversial results relating cigarette smoking to myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) risk. A meta-analysis was performed to assess such potential relationship between cigarette smoking and incidence of MDS. METHODS: A search of literature published before October 2012 for observational studies evaluating the association between cigarette smoking and MDS, returned 123 articles and of these, 14 were selected for this study. The outcomes from these studies were calculated and reported as odds ratios (OR). Quality assessments were performed with the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Heterogeneity was evaluated by the I2 index and source of heterogeneity was detected by sensitivity analyses. Finally, publication bias was assessed through visual inspection of funnel plots and Egger's test. RESULTS: The pooled OR of developing MDS in ever-smokers was 1.45 (95% CI, 1.25 to 1.68) versus non-smokers. Current and former smokers had increased risks of MDS, with ORs of 1.81 (95% CI, 1.24 to 2.66) and 1.67 (95% CI, 1.42 to 1.96), respectively. In subset analyses, ever-smokers had increased risks of developing MDS if they were living in the United States, or in Europe, female in gender, had refractory anemia (RA)/RA with ringed sideroblasts (RARS) or RA with excess blasts (RAEB)/RAEB in transformation (RAEBt), respectively. Our results demonstrated that the association was stronger in individuals who smoked ≥20 cigarettes/day (OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.03 to 2.55) versus those who smoked <20 cigarettes/day (OR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.13 to 1.64). Moreover, individuals who smoked more than 20 pack-years had increased MDS risk (OR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.29 to 2.92). CONCLUSION: Our outcomes show that smoking increases the risk of developing MDS in ever-smokers who are current or former smokers. We also demonstrate here that positive association between cigarette smoking and risk of MDS exists, and occurs in a dose-dependent manner.