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White Blood Cell Booster May Help Cancer Patients Avoid Deadly Complications

DURHAM, N.C. -- Cancer patients who receive a drug that stimulates the growth of infection-fighting white blood cells may be significantly less likely to die from a chemotherapy-related complication characterized by fever and low white blood cell levels, according to a multi-institutional study led by researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Chemotherapy drugs target cancer cells, but they can affect healthy cells as well, including infection-fighting white blood cells," said Nicole M. Kuderer, M.D., a hematology-oncology fellow at Duke and lead author on the publication. "When patients' white blood cell counts drop too low, they are at risk for dangerous infections that can cause death."

Often, chemotherapy must be delayed, reduced in strength or halted when a patient's white blood cell count is too low, potentially leading to poorer outcomes, she added.

"Patients taking a drug known as granulocyte colony-stimulating factor early in their chemotherapy were about half as likely to develop dangerously low white blood cell counts with fever, and half as likely to die from infection," Kuderer said. "This study represents an important part of the effort to better treat this common complication in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy."

The researchers published their findings in the July 20, 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The work was part of research being conducted by the Awareness of Neutropenia in Chemotherapy (ANC) Study Group, a multi-institution, university-based network of investigators whose work is unrestrictedly funded by Amgen, the maker of a commonly utilized white blood cell booster that goes by the names Neupogen and Neulasta. Kuderer also receives funding from the National Institutes of Health.

This study compiled the results of 17 trials involving more than 3,000 patients receiv
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