BACKGROUND: In March 1997 an international workshop introduced a new International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS) for MDS. The goal of the present study was to apply the IPSS to a large group of MDS patients from one centre and to compare it to the FAB-classification. PATIENTS: One hundred eighty-four MDS patients were included on the basis of similar criteria as used by the workshop but some of them (30) received AML-type therapy. RESULTS: The IPSS separated our patients into distinctive prognostic subgroups (P = 0.0001). Median survival was respectively 6.5, 2.6, 1.3 and 0.75 years for the low-risk (22% of patients), the intermediate-1-risk (INT-1) (46%), the intermediate-2-risk (INT-2) (25%) and the high-risk group (7%). The IPSS also discriminated within each of the FAB-categories: RA patients (58 patients) were present in low-risk, INT-1-risk and INT-2-risk subgroups, RARS patients (23) were separated into low-risk and INT-1-risk subgroups. RAEB patients (53) were distributed predominantly between INT-1-risk and INT-2-risk groups, RAEB-t patients (23) between INT-2-risk and high-risk subgroups. CMML patients (27) were present in the low-risk, the INT-1-risk and the INT-2-risk group. CONCLUSIONS: Our results confirm the effectiveness of the IPSS in predicting clinical outcome in MDS patients and indicate that it is an improved method compared to the FAB-classification.