Interferon alpha (α-IFN) is increasingly used for the treatment of patients affected by polycythemia vera (PV). As prior studies are difficult to interpret in view of the lack of appropriate controls, we undertook a randomized comparison of lymphoblastoid α-IFN (α n-1 IFN) treatment against venesection treatment alone. In a crossover trial, we treated 22 PV patients alternatively for 5 months each with 3 MU/day sc of α n-1 IFN and phlebotomy alone. During IFN treatment, red blood cell count and hematocrit level were well controlled in both trial groups, reducing or eliminating the need for phlebotomy in all patients; furthermore, platelet number and white blood cell count declined during α-IFN therapy. In addition, the number of symptomatic patients was greatly reduced, and in six patients a reduction in splenic size was observed. Finally, the only patient with chromosomal abnormalities showed a complete cytogenetic conversion after 5 months of α-IFN therapy. Thus, for the first time, our results provide the unequivocal demonstration that α-IFN is superior to phlebotomy in controlling the pathologic expansion of erythroid elements and all the clinical aspects of this disease.
- Polycythemia vera
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