Polycythemia vera (PV) is a chronic myeloproliferative neoplasm associated with JAK2 mutations (V617F or exon 12) in almost all cases. The World Health Organization has defined the criteria for diagnosis, but it is still unclear which parameter (hemoglobin or hematocrit) is the most reliable for demonstrating increased red cell volume and for monitoring response to therapy; also, the role of bone marrow biopsy is being revisited. PV is associated with reduced survival because of cardiovascular complications and progression to post-PV myelofibrosis or leukemia. Criteria for risk-adapted treatment rely on the likelihood of thrombosis. Controlled trials have demonstrated that incidence of cardiovascular events is reduced by sustained control of hematocrit with phlebotomies (low-risk patients) and/or cytotoxic agents (high-risk patients) and antiplatelet therapy with aspirin. Hydroxyurea and interferon may be used as first-line treatments, whereas busulfan is reserved for patients that are refractory or resistant to first-line agents. However, there is no evidence that therapy improves survival, and the significance of reduction of JAK2 mutated allele burden produced by interferon is unknown. PV is also associated with a plethora of symptoms that are poorly controlled by conventional therapy. This article summarizes my approach to the management of PV in daily clinical practice.
© 2014 by The American Society of Hematology.