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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Feb;18(2):534-40. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-08-0922. Epub 2009 Feb 3.

Use of molecular testing to identify a cluster of patients with polycythemia vera in eastern Pennsylvania.

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  • 1Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA.



The role of the environment in the origin of polycythemia vera has not been well documented. Recently, molecular diagnostic tools have been developed to facilitate the diagnosis of polycythemia vera. A cluster of patients with polycythemia vera was suspected in three countries in eastern Pennsylvania where there have long been a concern about environment hazards.


Rigorous clinical criteria and JAK2 617V>F testing were used to confirm the diagnosis of polycythemia vera in patients in this area. Participants included cases of polycythemia vera from the 2001 to 2005 state cancer registry as well as self- and physician-referred cases.


A diagnosis of polycythemia vera was confirmed in 53% of 62 participants using WHO criteria, which includes JAK2 617V>F testing. A statistically significant cluster of cases (P < 0.001) was identified where the incidence of polycythemia vera was 4.3 times that of the rest of the study area. The area of the cluster contained numerous sources of hazardous material including waste-coal power plants and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites.


The diagnosis of polycythemia vera based solely on clinical criteria is frequently erroneous, suggesting that our prior knowledge of the epidemiology of this disease might be inaccurate. The JAK2 617V>F mutational analysis provides diagnostic clarity and permitted the confirmation of a cluster of polycythemia vera cases not identified by traditional clinical and pathologic diagnostic criteria. The close proximity of this cluster to known areas of hazardous material exposure raises concern that such environmental factors might play a role in the origin of polycythemia vera.

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