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Diagnosis and Treatment of PV

Diagnosis

Blood tests are used to diagnose polycythemia vera. Signs may include:

  • An increase in red blood cells, platelets and white bloods cells
  • A high hematocrit (the proportion of red blood cells in the blood) 
  • An increase in hemoglobin concentration (a protein found in red blood cells)
  • Low levels of erythropoietin (a hormone that controls red blood cell production)

Additional tests may include:

  • Bone marrow biopsy or aspiration to take a sample of bone marrow
  • Testing for the presence of JAK2 mutation or other genetic mutations 


Treatment

Different health care providers involved in your care may include a hematologist/oncologist, a nurse, a nurse navigator, an oncology social worker or a pharmacist. These people can help you find information and resources that may be useful before, during and after treatment. Ask your doctor about the other members of your health care team – their names and how you can arrange to meet them. You also may want to ask your insurance company to assign you a case manager to help you understand which treatments and services your health insurance will cover.

Treatment choices depend on your diagnosis and the extent of the disease. The various drugs used to treat polycythemia vera work in different ways, and may have different side effects. Ask for more information before starting treatment. Your options may include:

PHLEBOTOMY: Some people can safely avoid taking any cancer medication for their PV, but nearly all patients need to have blood drawn to keep their red blood cell count under control. This

procedure is called phlebotomy, which just means removing blood from a vein in order to reduce the amount of overall red blood cells in the body.

  • Aspirin: Nearly all people with PV, should take a low dose of aspirin daily. While this is not an anti-cancer therapy, it is very helpful in preventing some of the common complications of PV.
  • Hydroxyurea: This oral chemotherapy is used when a person has certain higher risk factors.
  • Interferon: This immunotherapy is also used to reduce blood counts. It is not necessary for everyone, but can be helpful in selected cases. This medicine comes as a shot.
  • JAK Inhibitors: These drugs target the JAK2 mutation. They can be used when patients have bad side effects to other treatments or when the other treatments fail to work.

Other treatments may be available through clinical trials. Clinical trials can offer the opportunity to benefit from the latest treatments or combinations of treatments while helping advance knowledge of the disease and its treatment options. Ask your health care team if a clinical trial might be right for you.