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Polycythemia Specialist

Houston Cancer Institute, PA

Cancer Treatment located in West Houston, Clear Lake, Spring, and Katy, TX

Polycythemia is an uncommon form of blood cancer that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. If you have polycythemia, the experienced team at the Houston Cancer Institute, PA, can help. At their three locations in Houston and another in Katy, Texas, their expert team members help you manage the complications of having polycythemia and enjoy a healthier, happier life. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call the Houston Cancer Institute, PA, or book an appointment online today.

Polycythemia Q&A

What is polycythemia?

Polycythemia is a blood disorder that can cause complications such as:

  • An enlarged spleen
  • Blood clots
  • Angina (heart-related chest pain)
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Gout
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Blood disorders like myelofibrosis and leukemia

There are two types of polycythemia:

Primary polycythemia

Primary polycythemia or polycythemia vera is a rare type of slow-growing blood cancer. Primary polycythemia causes your bone marrow to produce large quantities of abnormal precursor blood cells that, in turn, create too many red blood cells. You might also have an excess of white blood cells and platelets. 

Secondary polycythemia

Secondary polycythemia also involves an increase in red blood cells, but this isn't due to the genetic abnormalities that cause primary polycythemia. Possible triggers for secondary polycythemia include having obstructive sleep apnea or certain types of tumor, being at very high altitudes, and having a heart or lung disease that causes low blood oxygen levels.

What symptoms does polycythemia cause?

Polycythemia symptoms develop very slowly. As the disease progresses, you might experience problems such as:

  • Vertigo or dizziness 
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Excessive sweating
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • A burning feeling in your feet
  • A sensation of fullness in your abdomen
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums

You may also have a purplish or reddish nose, discolored palms, and earlobes, and frequently suffer from bleeding and bruising. 

The excessive quantity of red blood cells typical of polycythemia thickens your blood, affecting your circulation and increasing your risk of thrombosis or blood clots. If you have too many platelets as well, your risk is even higher.

What treatments are there for polycythemia?

The treatment you need for polycythemia depends on the cause of your condition. If you have secondary polycythemia, treating the underlying cause – for example, using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) for obstructive sleep apnea – should reduce your high red blood cell count.

Primary polycythemia is currently incurable, but the team at the Houston Cancer Institute, PA, can help you manage your condition successfully. Potential treatments include:


Phlebotomy is the drawing of blood from your veins to reduce the red blood cell count. The Houston Cancer Institute, PA, team does this at regular intervals onsite.

Myelosuppressive drugs 

If phlebotomy isn't controlling your blood cell count effectively enough, your provider might prescribe myelosuppressive drugs. Medicines like hydroxyurea suppress your bone marrow to prevent it from making as many blood cells.

JAK2 inhibitors

If you don't respond satisfactorily to other treatments, your provider might recommend drugs like ruxolitinib to inhibit the JAK2 enzyme. That is the enzyme responsible for controlling the creation and growth of blood cells. 

You might require other medications to help control your symptoms, such as aspirin to reduce the risk of blood clots and relieve headaches and antihistamines to stop itchiness.

If you have any concerns about polycythemia, call the Houston Cancer Institute, PA, or book an appointment online today.




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