Is polycythemia vera ruba blood cancer?

A fellow caregiver asked...

If diagnosed with polycythemia vera ruba, is this a blood cancer?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Polycythemia vera ruba is not cancer, but rather a blood disease.  It may have a genetic cause, but medical research is still looking into this.  Basically, the bone marrow is overstimulated, and produces too many red blood cells.  Sometimes people with this disease can have double the amount of red blood cells that are normal.  People with this condition are prone to blood clots, so they should be on aspirin if they are able to help to reduce that risk.

Treatment for this condition include phlebotomy (bloodletting), which reduces blood volume.  Sometimes, certain chemotherapuetic drugs are given, as they suppress the bone marrow and keep red blood cells from being made so rapidly.