Among the chronic myeloproliferative disorders, polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia are unique because of their association with thrombohemorrhagic manifestations and their relatively indolent clinical course. Patients with essential thrombocythemia may not have a significant shortening of life-expectancy and most may not require specific therapy. However, patients with polycythemia vera have a significant risk of transformation of polycythemia vera into acute leukemia or postpolycythemic myelofibrosis (or both). 'High-risk-for-thrombosis' patients with either polycythemia vera or essential thrombocythemia require specific therapy with a platelet-lowering agent to prevent thrombotic complications. Currently, the standard agent used for this is hydroxyurea. However, its teratogenic and leukemogenic potential has been of concern. As a result, new platelet-lowering agents are being evaluated in the treatment of polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia. Anagrelide and interferon alfa are two such agents and have been shown to be effective in reducing platelet counts in patients with chronic myeloproliferative disorders. The putative mechanism of action of these drugs, their specific activity in polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia, side-effect profile, and current indications are discussed herein.
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