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Am J Hematol. 2011 Mar;86(3):292-301. doi: 10.1002/ajh.21946.

Annual Clinical Updates in Hematological Malignancies: a continuing medical education series: polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia: 2011 update on diagnosis, risk-stratification, and management.

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  • 1Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA.



Polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET) are myeloproliferative neoplasms primarily characterized by erythrocytosis and thrombocytosis, respectively. Other disease features include leukocytosis, splenomegaly, thrombohemorrhagic complications, vasomotor disturbances, pruritus, and a small risk of disease progression into acute leukemia or myelofibrosis.


Diagnosis is based on JAK2 mutation status (PV and ET), serum erythropoietin (Epo) level (PV), and bone marrow histopathology (ET). The presence of a JAK2 mutation and subnormal serum Epo level confirm a diagnosis of PV. Differential diagnosis in ET should include chronic myelogenous leukemia and prefibrotic myelofibrosis.


Current risk stratification in PV and ET is designed to estimate the likelihood of thrombotic complications: high-risk-age > 60 years or presence of thrombosis history; low-risk-absence of both of these two risk factors. Presence of extreme thrombocytosis (platelet count > 1,000 x 10⁹/L) might be associated with acquired von Willebrand syndrome (AvWS) and, therefore, risk of bleeding. Risk factors for shortened survival in both PV and ET include age > 60 years, leukocytosis, history of thrombosis, and anemia.


Survival is near-normal in ET and reasonably long in PV. The 10-year risk of leukemic/fibrotic transformation is < 1%/1% in ET and < 5%/10% in PV. In contrast, the risk of thrombosis exceeds 20%. The main goal of therapy is therefore to prevent thrombohemorrhagic complications and this is effectively and safely accomplished by the use of low-dose aspirin (PV and ET), phlebotomy (PV), and hydroxyurea (high risk PV and ET). Treatment with busulfan or interferon-a is usually effective in hydroxyurea failures.

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