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Chronic Myeloproliferative Disorders Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Polycythemia Vera


In a pooled analysis of 16 different trials, interferon-alpha therapy resulted in avoidance of phlebotomy in 50% of patients, with 80% of patients experiencing marked reduction of splenomegaly.[12][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Interferon posed problems of cost, side effects, and parenteral route of administration, but no cases of acute leukemia were seen in this analysis. When patients are poorly compliant with phlebotomy or issues of massive splenomegaly, leukocytosis, or thrombocytosis supervene, treatment with interferon or pegylated interferon is considered for patients younger than 50 years (who are more likely to tolerate the side effects and benefit from a lack of transformation to leukemia), while hydroxyurea is considered for patients older than 50 years.[2,13]

A phase II study (PVN1) provided evidence that V617F JAK2 mutation is a reliable molecular marker of p. vera and is potentially useful in monitoring treatment effect.

In a Cochrane review of two randomized studies of 630 patients with no clear indication or contraindication for aspirin, those receiving 100 mg of aspirin versus placebo had reduction of fatal thrombotic events, but this benefit was not statistically significant (OR = 0.20; 95% CI, .03–1.14).[14] A retrospective review of 105 patients who underwent surgery documented 8% thromboembolism and 7% major hemorrhage with prior cytoreduction by phlebotomy and postoperative subcutaneous heparin in one half of the patients.[15]

Guidelines based on anecdotal reports have been developed for the management of pregnant patients with p. vera.[3]

Treatment options:

  1. Phlebotomy.[9]
  2. Hydroxyurea (alone or with phlebotomy).[10,11]
  3. Interferon-alpha [12,16,17] and pegylated interferon-alpha.[18]
  4. Rarely, chlorambucil or busulfan may be required, especially if interferon or hydroxyurea are not tolerated, as is often seen in patients older than 70 years.[2]
  5. Low-dose aspirin (≤100 mg) daily, unless contraindicated by major bleeding or gastric intolerance.[8,14]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with polycythemia vera. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Tefferi A, Thiele J, Vardiman JW: The 2008 World Health Organization classification system for myeloproliferative neoplasms: order out of chaos. Cancer 115 (17): 3842-7, 2009.
  2. Streiff MB, Smith B, Spivak JL: The diagnosis and management of polycythemia vera in the era since the Polycythemia Vera Study Group: a survey of American Society of Hematology members' practice patterns. Blood 99 (4): 1144-9, 2002.
  3. McMullin MF, Bareford D, Campbell P, et al.: Guidelines for the diagnosis, investigation and management of polycythaemia/erythrocytosis. Br J Haematol 130 (2): 174-95, 2005.
  4. Campbell PJ, Green AR: The myeloproliferative disorders. N Engl J Med 355 (23): 2452-66, 2006.
  5. Marchioli R, Finazzi G, Landolfi R, et al.: Vascular and neoplastic risk in a large cohort of patients with polycythemia vera. J Clin Oncol 23 (10): 2224-32, 2005.
  6. Elliott MA, Tefferi A: Thrombosis and haemorrhage in polycythaemia vera and essential thrombocythaemia. Br J Haematol 128 (3): 275-90, 2005.
  7. Chait Y, Condat B, Cazals-Hatem D, et al.: Relevance of the criteria commonly used to diagnose myeloproliferative disorder in patients with splanchnic vein thrombosis. Br J Haematol 129 (4): 553-60, 2005.
  8. Finazzi G, Barbui T: How I treat patients with polycythemia vera. Blood 109 (12): 5104-11, 2007.
  9. Berk PD, Goldberg JD, Donovan PB, et al.: Therapeutic recommendations in polycythemia vera based on Polycythemia Vera Study Group protocols. Semin Hematol 23 (2): 132-43, 1986.
  10. Lamy T, Devillers A, Bernard M, et al.: Inapparent polycythemia vera: an unrecognized diagnosis. Am J Med 102 (1): 14-20, 1997.
  11. Kaplan ME, Mack K, Goldberg JD, et al.: Long-term management of polycythemia vera with hydroxyurea: a progress report. Semin Hematol 23 (3): 167-71, 1986.
  12. Lengfelder E, Berger U, Hehlmann R: Interferon alpha in the treatment of polycythemia vera. Ann Hematol 79 (3): 103-9, 2000.
  13. Kiladjian JJ, Cassinat B, Chevret S, et al.: Pegylated interferon-alfa-2a induces complete hematologic and molecular responses with low toxicity in polycythemia vera. Blood 112 (8): 3065-72, 2008.
  14. Squizzato A, Romualdi E, Middeldorp S: Antiplatelet drugs for polycythaemia vera and essential thrombocythaemia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD006503, 2008.
  15. Ruggeri M, Rodeghiero F, Tosetto A, et al.: Postsurgery outcomes in patients with polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia: a retrospective survey. Blood 111 (2): 666-71, 2008.
  16. Silver RT: Long-term effects of the treatment of polycythemia vera with recombinant interferon-alpha. Cancer 107 (3): 451-8, 2006.
  17. Quintás-Cardama A, Kantarjian HM, Giles F, et al.: Pegylated interferon therapy for patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative myeloproliferative disorders. Semin Thromb Hemost 32 (4 Pt 2): 409-16, 2006.
  18. Quintás-Cardama A, Kantarjian H, Manshouri T, et al.: Pegylated interferon alfa-2a yields high rates of hematologic and molecular response in patients with advanced essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera. J Clin Oncol 27 (32): 5418-24, 2009.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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