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Semin Thromb Hemost. 2006 Jun;32(4 Pt 2):437-42.

Treatment of polycythemia vera.

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Division of Hematology-Oncology, New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, New York 10021-4873, USA.


The selection of treatment for patients with polycythemia vera (PV) still is the subject of much discussion among hematologists. It is emphasized that important physiologic and pathogenic components of the illness relate not only to the erythroid cell, but also to the megakaryocyte. Both play essential roles in causing complications of the disease. Hematologists agree that the mainstay in treatment remains phlebotomy, a basic pillar of the concept of PRIMUM NON NOCERE. In general, the target levels for the hematocrit have been accepted as <or= 45% for men and <or= 42% for women. Low-dose aspirin, 80 to 100 mg daily, should be used as a basic component of therapy. The selection of the type of treatment for those patients who require some form of myelosuppression owing to the frequency of phlebotomy and/or its complications provides the basis for major discussion, confrontation, and disagreement. For the most part, alkylating agents are avoided owing to the established risk of secondary leukemia, but these drugs and radioactive phosphorous ( (32)P) still play a role in treating the very elderly patient or for those who have significant comorbid conditions. Whereas hydroxyurea remains the most frequently prescribed drug, limitations to its use as a therapeutic agent of choice include questions regarding its effectiveness, toxicity, and potential leukemogenicity. Interferon offers a rational choice of treatment owing to its broad physiologic effects on hematopoiesis. Whereas its effect in treating patients with PV is unequivocal, it is associated with side effects even when used properly. Moreover, it has only modest effect on Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) expression. Clearly, the best treatment for patients with PV is still sought. Perhaps more explicit exploitation of the JAK2 abnormality found in PV (and other myeloproliferative diseases) may provide more effective agents in the future.

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