Treatment indications and choice of a platelet-lowering agent in essential thrombocythemia

Tiziano Barbui, Guido Finazzi
Current Hematology Reports 2003, 2 (3): 248-56
The therapeutic strategy in patients with essential thrombocythemia (ET) is a difficult balance between the prevention of bleeding and thrombotic complications and the risks of drug side effects and toxicity. Major bleeding is rare and seems to be related to higher platelet counts. Therefore, a platelet count greater than 1500 x 10(9)/L is generally regarded as an indication for cytoreduction. Thrombotic complications include microvascular occlusive symptoms, which are usually reversible with low-dose aspirin, and large vessel thrombosis. The risk of major thrombosis is higher in patients with ET who are older than 60 years and who have had a previous occlusive event. In this high-risk group, the nonalkylating agent hydroxyurea significantly reduces the rate of vascular complications and has emerged as the treatment of choice. However, the long-term risk:benefit ratio of hydroxyurea remains disputed because its leukemogenic potential has not been ruled out. This holds also for other myelosuppressive agents such as busulfan and pipobroman. Other drugs of particular interest for young patients include recombinant interferon-alpha and anagrelide. Both of these drugs are effective in lowering platelet counts, but their efficacy in reducing clinical complications remains to be demonstrated. Furthermore, interferon and anagrelide have frequent and clinically important side effects. Thus, further clinical studies are required to establish their role in the management of patients with ET.

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