What Is Polycythemia?


Quick Answer

Polycythemia vera is a blood cancer that progresses slowly and features the overproduction of red blood cells by the bone marrow. Other blood cell types, such as platelets and white cells, may also appear in excess. The risks of this excess production include bleeding and blood clots.

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What Is Polycythemia?
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Full Answer

Polycthemia vera is one of the rarer forms of cancer. People who have it often do not notice any symptoms or signs for many years. A frequent way that doctors catch polycythemia vera is by performing a blood test for a completely different reason. Once patients become aware of the illness, treatment is crucial, as proper care generally allows a much better quality of life. Without treatment, polycythemia vera can develop into myelofibrosis or acute leukemia.

The cause of polycythemia vera is a mutation within a bone marrow cell. The process that the body uses to manage blood cell production suffers from damage, and the bone marrow ends up making too many cells. The mutation appears in the protein JAK2, and researchers think that this mutation influences a protein switch that signals cell growth. However, as of 2015, the exact mechanism is uncertain, and the causes of the mutation are unknown as well.

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