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Blood cell growth factors

Blood cell growth factors can be part of treatment if you have a very low white blood cell count and are at risk of getting infections. Researchers are now looking into using them as a way of treating cancer.

What blood cell growth factors are

Growth factors are also known as colony stimulating factors. They are substances produced by the body and there are many different types. Some types stimulate the bone marrow to make certain blood cells. Researchers can now make some growth factors in the laboratory.

What blood cell growth factor treatment is

In cancer care, you may have treatment called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) after chemotherapy, to help your blood counts recover. There are different types of these drugs, including:

  • lenograstim (Granocyte)
  • filgrastim (Neupogen, Zarzio, Nivestim, Ratiograstim)
  • a long acting type (pegylated) of filgrastim called pegfilgrastim or Neulasta

Blood cell growth factors as biological therapy

Researchers are looking into using some types of blood cell growth factors as a way of treating cancer.

GM-CSF (granulocyte and macrophage colony stimulating factor) is a growth factor that increases the number of some types of white blood cells (neutrophils and monocytes). It also stimulates dendritic cells to divide. These are a type of white blood cell that help the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.

Researchers are using GM-CSF alongside other biological therapies to try to boost numbers of dendritic cells and help them to work. Researchers are also using GM-CSF in cancer vaccines for certain types of cancer.

This is still experimental research. In trials so far, patients who had these vaccines made more dendritic cells. But we don’t know yet whether this will affect their cancer.

Trials have only been carried out with very small numbers of patients, mostly with advanced melanoma.

Last reviewed: 
25 Nov 2014
  • Identification of a new subset of myeloid suppressor cells in peripheral blood of melanoma patients with modulation by a granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulation factor-based antitumor vaccine

    P Filipazzi and others

    Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007 June 20;25(18):2546-53.

  • A pilot study of bevacizumab (Bev) and continous low-dose granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in heavily pretreated patients with refractory solid tumors: Preliminary results

    M Schmidt and others

    Journal of Clinical Oncology 25, no.18 supplement (June 2007) 3031-3031.

  • Granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor as adjuvant therapy for resected stage III/IV melanoma: Retrospective review of a single institutional experience

    T Patel and others

    Journal of Clinical Oncology 25, no. 18 supplement (June 2007) 19002-19002.

  • A dose-escalation study of aerosolized sargramostim in the treatment of metastatic melanoma: an NCCTG Study

    S Markovic and others

    American Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008 December; 31(6):573-9. 

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium 
    Accessed November 2014

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

    Accessed November 2014

  • Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN)

    Accessed November 2014

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