Cancer Drug May Harm Bone

Mouse study shows the growth factor is linked to bone loss

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MONDAY, Jan. 22, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) -- a medication commonly used to help reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients -- also caused bone loss and promoted tumor growth in the bones of mice, a new study finds.

As a result of their findings, the researchers urged that doctors closely monitor cancer patients' bone health during chemotherapy. The study appears online in the journal Blood, and was expected to be published in an upcoming print issue.

G-CSF helps restore white blood cell counts after chemotherapy, which can destroy white blood cells. Low levels of white blood cells increase the risk of infection in patients.

In the study, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave G-CSF to mice for eight days.

They found that the mice lost bone mass. The rodents also showed increased bone tumor growth when they were injected with cancer cells.

"This growth factor encourages bone breakdown, and any therapy that decreases bone density could potentially enhance tumor growth in bone," senior author Dr. Katherine Weilbaecher, an assistant professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology, said in a prepared statement.

"But there are things that can be done to counteract this. Physicians should carefully monitor their cancer patient's bone health with regular bone density scans (DEXA) and prescribe medications to prevent bone loss when needed. And patients should consume enough calcium and vitamin D and get sufficient exercise to maintain strong bones," Weilbaecher said.

While G-CSF -- known by the trade names Neupogen, Neulasta and Granocyte -- had a strong effect in mice, early research in cancer patients treated with G-CSF and chemotherapy has so far found no increase in bone tumors and no adverse impact on survival, the study authors noted.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about chemotherapy.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, news release, January 2007

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