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Growth factors for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

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Growth factors for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Growth factors are natural substances that stimulate the bone marrow to make blood cells. Doctors can make some growth factors artificially and use them as treatments to increase the number of white blood cells and stem cells in the blood. A commonly used growth factor is filgrastim (G-CSF or Neupogen).

You have growth factors as an injection under the skin. This is usually in the tummy (abdomen), or into an arm or a leg. You may have growth factors as part of your treatment for two reasons

  • To help you make white cells more quickly after chemotherapy
  • To produce extra stem cells before having stem cells collected (a stem cell harvest).

Growth factor side effects

Growth factor injections can have side effects. Some people have itching around the injection site. You may have some pain in your bones after you have had a few injections. Your bone marrow is making so many blood cells that it can get quite crowded and make your bones ache. You can usually control the pain easily with a mild painkiller, such as paracetamol. It usually lasts a few days.

Some people get a high temperature (fever) when they have growth factors. Tell your doctor if this happens to you, because fever can also be a sign of infection.
 

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What growth factors are

Growth factors are natural substances that stimulate the bone marrow to make blood cells. Doctors can make some growth factors artificially and use them as treatments to increase the number of white blood cells and stem cells in the blood. A commonly used growth factor is granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). There are different types of G-CSF, including filgrastim and lenograstim and a long acting type called pegfilgrastim.

You have growth factors as an injection under the skin. This is usually in the tummy (abdomen), or into an arm or leg. You may have growth factors as part of your treatment for two reasons

  • To help you make white cells more quickly after chemotherapy
  • To produce extra stem cells before having stem cells collected (stem cell harvest)

Chemotherapy kills off your healthy white blood cells, as well as the leukaemic ones. You are at risk of infection while your white cell count is low. If you get an infection, your body is not able to fight it off as well as usual. So infections can make you more ill than they normally would. They can even be life threatening. A low level of white cells is called neutropenia. You may have growth factors while you have neutropenia, to help your white blood cell count go up more quickly.

Early research into routine use of growth factors has shown that they can help the white cell count to recover, and may reduce the total number of infections that people have. But how and when they are used may vary from hospital to hospital. Some doctors may prefer not to give you growth factors unless you get a serious infection.

 

Having stem cells collected

You may also have growth factors to prepare you for stem cell collection. Doctors call this a stem cell harvest.

Daily growth factor injections make your bone marrow grow many more stem cells than normal. These extra stem cells spill over into the blood. They can then be collected. They will be frozen and kept until you need to have them back after intensive chemotherapy, as a stem cell transplant. There is more detailed information about stem cell transplants.

 

Growth factor side effects

Growth factor injections do not have many side effects. Some people have itching around the injection site. You may have some pain in your bones after a few injections. This is because your bone marrow is growing many blood cells. You can usually control the pain with a mild painkiller, such as paracetamol. The pain usually lasts a few days.

Some people get a high temperature (fever) when they have growth factors. Tell your doctor if this happens to you, because fever can also be a sign of an infection.

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Updated: 12 May 2015