Sarah Cannon - September 01, 2016

Sponsored by Incyte

American doctor talking to senior man in surgery
During Blood Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to educate yourself and your loved ones on all types of blood cancers, and share resources for navigating the cancer journey.

Polycythemia vera or PV, is a rare, slow-progressing blood cancer that occurs when your body makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

PV is a type of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), which causes your blood to thicken, leading to circulation issues and ultimately a limited flow of oxygen to your organs. PV can commonly cause blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Patients with blood disorders such as PV have an increased risk for developing leukemia.

PV is most common in patients over the age of 60 and those who have a family history of the disease. It is more common in men than in women. It is important to note that only 100,000 people in the United States currently have PV, which translates to about one in every 3,200 people.

Common symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • abdominal pain
  • early feeling of fullness while eating
  • pain under your left ribs
  • day or night sweats
  • problems concentrating
  • numbness in your hands or feet
  • dizziness
  • insomnia
  • headache and double or blurred vision

About 30 percent of PV cases are diagnosed after a heart attack or stroke. The majority of cases of PV are found at a routine check-up through identification of symptoms and elevated blood counts in bloodwork. If you think you may have PV, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about testing and diagnosis.

If your physician suspects PV, you may be referred to a hematologist (a specialist in blood diseases) and then evaluated through additional blood tests.

Your care team will monitor your condition with periodic blood tests and by tracking your symptoms over time. Treatments typically consist of medications that can be taken orally. Your doctor may recommend a low dosage of aspirin daily before prescribing additional medications that reduce red and white blood cell counts and platelet counts. PV can be effectively managed over time. Many patients continue on in their normal life for more than 20 years after a PV diagnosis.

For more information on PV, download this fact sheet and visit the Voices of MPN, or visit The Leukemia & Lymphoma website.