Abstract

Since its discovery, polycythemia vera (PV) has challenged clinicians responsible for its diagnosis and management and scientists investigating its pathogenesis. As a clonal hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) disorder, PV is a neoplasm but its driver mutations result in overproduction of morphologically and functionally normal blood cells. PV arises in an HSC but it can present initially as isolated erythrocytosis, leukocytosis, thrombocytosis, or any combination of these together with splenomegaly or myelofibrosis, and it can take years for a true panmyelopathy to appear. PV shares the same JAK2 mutation as essential thrombocytosis and primary myelofibrosis, but erythrocytosis only occurs in PV. However, unlike secondary causes of erythrocytosis, in PV, the plasma volume is frequently expanded, masking the erythrocytosis and making diagnosis difficult if this essential fact is ignored. PV is not a monolithic disorder: female patients deregulate fewer genes and clinically behave differently than their male counterparts, while some PV patients are genetically predisposed to an aggressive clinical course. Nevertheless, based on what we have learned over the past century, most PV patients can lead long and productive lives. In this review, using clinical examples, I describe how I diagnose and manage PV in an evidence-based manner without relying on chemotherapy.

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