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.