Polycythemia Vera or PV, is a rare blood cancer. It’s caused by a mutation which results in the overproduction of red blood cells. Too many blood cells significantly increases your chance of blood clots, or thrombosis, which is the major concern for PV patients.
However, there are two effective treatments recommended for PV. The first is called phlebotomy, which works to reduce the volume of blood. The second is cytoreductive therapy, which works to stop excess production of the cells in the first place, using a drug called hydroxyurea or HU.
Here’s whats shocking. A recent study showed that both of these treatments are extremely under-prescribed.
No, these medicines aren’t perfect. They don’t cure the disease. However, they do make a difference and they’re currently the best thing we’ve got. So why in the world aren’t doctors prescribing the best thing currently out there?
The study which revealed this shocking news examined 820 patients to determine the effectiveness of the two treatment options. Among the individuals treated with phlebotomy, there was a 48% reduction in thrombosis and a 35% reduction in death. Additionally, it was found that there was an 8% reduced risk of blood clots and death for every 10% increase in the proportion of days HU was taken.
These numbers make it clear these two treatments can save patient’s lives. However, the study also showed that 16% of the patients received neither of the treatments and 23% received only phlebotomy but not cytoreductive therapy. Thats a grand total of 39% of patients being under-treated for their condition.
This study was especially telling because it was not conducted in the setting of a clinical trial. it simply documented how patients were being treated in their normal lives. Additionally, it specifically studied PV patients who were at exceptionally high risk for developing blood clots (age 60 or older). All of the patients in this study were older than age 66.
The hope is that this study will raise awareness about the effectiveness of these two treatments. There’s a reason that these therapies are recommended and with any luck this study will increase physician’s adherence to prescribing them.
If you or a loved one has PV and you haven’t heard of these treatments yet, don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your doctor to see if they might be right for you.
You can read more about these two treatments and the study which examined their effectiveness and rate of prescription here.