Polycythemia vera: 2024 update on diagnosis, risk-stratification, and management

Am J Hematol. 2023 Sep;98(9):1465-1487. doi: 10.1002/ajh.27002. Epub 2023 Jun 26.


Disease overview: Polycythemia vera (PV) is a JAK2-mutated myeloproliferative neoplasm characterized by clonal erythrocytosis; other features include leukocytosis, thrombocytosis, splenomegaly, pruritus, constitutional symptoms, microcirculatory disturbances, and increased risk of thrombosis and progression into myelofibrosis (post-PV MF) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Diagnosis: A working diagnosis is considered in the presence of a JAK2 mutation associated with hemoglobin/hematocrit levels of >16.5 g/dL/49% in men or 16 g/dL/48% in women; morphologic confirmation by bone marrow examination is advised but not mandated.

Cytogenetics: Abnormal karyotype is seen in 15%-20% of patients with the most frequent sole abnormalities being +9 (5%), loss of chromosome Y (4%), +8 (3%), and 20q- (3%).

Mutations: Over 50% of patients harbor DNA sequence variants/mutations other than JAK2, with the most frequent being TET2 (18%) and ASXL1 (15%). Prognostically adverse mutations include SRSF2, IDH2, RUNX1, and U2AF1, with a combined incidence of 5%-10%.

Survival and prognosis: Median survival is ⁓15 years but exceeds 35 years for patients aged ≤40 years. Risk factors for survival include older age, leukocytosis, abnormal karyotype, and the presence of adverse mutations. Twenty-year risk for thrombosis, post-PV MF, or AML are ⁓26%, 16% and 4%, respectively.

Risk factors for thrombosis: Two risk categories are considered: high (age >60 years or thrombosis history) and low (absence of both risk factors). Additional predictors for arterial thrombosis include cardiovascular risk factors and for venous thrombosis higher absolute neutrophil count and JAK2V617F allele burden.

Treatment: Current goal of therapy is to prevent thrombosis. Periodic phlebotomy, with a hematocrit target of <45%, combined with once- or twice-daily aspirin (81 mg) therapy, absent contraindications, is the backbone of treatment in all patients, regardless of risk category. Cytoreductive therapy is reserved for high-risk disease with first-line drugs of choice being hydroxyurea and pegylated interferon-α and second-line busulfan and ruxolitinib. In addition, systemic anticoagulation is advised in patients with venous thrombosis history.

Additional treatment considerations: At the present time, we do not consider a drug-induced reduction in JAK2V617F allele burden, which is often incomplete and seen not only with peg-IFN but also with ruxolitinib and busulfan, as an indicator of disease-modifying activity, unless accompanied by cytogenetic and independently-verified morphologic remission. Accordingly, we do not use the specific parameter to influence treatment choices. The current review also includes specific treatment strategies in the context of pregnancy, splanchnic vein thrombosis, pruritus, perioperative care, and post-PV MF.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Busulfan / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Janus Kinase 2 / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute* / drug therapy
  • Leukocytosis / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Microcirculation
  • Polycythemia Vera* / diagnosis
  • Polycythemia Vera* / genetics
  • Polycythemia Vera* / therapy
  • Thrombocythemia, Essential* / genetics
  • Thrombosis* / etiology


  • ruxolitinib
  • Busulfan
  • Janus Kinase 2