Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
Granulocyte Macrophage Colony Stimulating Factor
Drug type: Sargramostim is a biologic response modifier. It is
classified as a colony stimulating factor. (For more detail, see "How this
drug works" section below).
What This Drug Is Used For:
- Used to accelerate the recovery of white blood cells following chemotherapy.
- Used following induction chemotherapy in Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).
- After bone marrow transplantation.
- Before and/or after peripheral blood stem cell transplantation.
- Sargramostim is a support medication. It does not treat cancer.
Note: If a drug has been approved for one use, physicians
may elect to use this same drug for other problems if they believe it may be helpful.
How This Drug Is Given:
- As an injection under the skin (subcutaneous, SubQ).
- As an infusion into the vein (intravenous, IV).
- How it is given depends on why you are receiving this drug.
- The amount of sargramostim that you will receive depends on many factors, including
your height and weight, your general health or other health problems, and the type
of cancer or condition being treated. Your doctor will determine your dose
Important things to remember about the side effects of sargramostim:
- Most people do not experience all of the side effects listed.
- Side effects are often predictable in terms of their onset and duration.
- Side effects are almost always reversible and will go away after treatment is complete.
- There are many options to help minimize or prevent side effects.
- There is no relationship between the presence or severity of side effects and the
effectiveness of the medication.
- Sargramostim is a support medication. The following list includes side effects
attributed to sargramostim. Other side effects experienced were attributed
to the chemotherapy and/or the disease.
The following side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for
patients taking sargramostim:
- With the first dose of sargramostim a person may experience low blood pressure,
fast heart rate, flushing, lightheadedness or feeling faint. This is referred
to as "first-dose effect," and tends not to happen with future doses.
- Local reactions at the injection site. (swelling, redness and tenderness)
- Weakness and fatigue
These side effects are less common side effects (occurring in about 10-29%)
of patients receiving sargramostim:
- Mild flu-like syndrome (fever, headache, generalized aches and pains, weakness and
- Swelling in your hands and feet.
A rare (< 1%) but significant side effect is problem with blood clots.
Blood clots rarely can lead to pulmonary embolus or stroke - potentially life-threatening
Another serious, but very uncommon side effect of sargramostim is "capillary
leak syndrome" or "vascular leak syndrome." Capillary leak syndrome is a potentially
serious disease in which fluids within the vascular system (veins and capillaries)
leaks into the tissue outside the bloodstream. This results in low blood pressure
and poor blood flow to the internal organs. Capillary leak syndrome is characterized
by the presence of 2 or more of the following 3 symptoms; low blood pressure, swelling,
and low levels of protein in the blood. Your doctor will monitor these things
carefully while you are taking sargramostim. You should notify your
doctor immediately if you notice dizziness (especially when changing position),
sudden swelling or rapid weight gain, little or no urine output (for 8-12 hours),
shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeats, or chest pain.
Not all side effects are listed above. Some that are rare (occurring in less than
10% of patients) are not listed here. However, you should always inform your
health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.
When to contact your doctor or health care provider:
Seek emergency help immediately and notify your health care provider,
it you experience the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty breathing, closing up of the throat, swelling
of facial features, hives (possible allergic reaction).
Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you
should experience any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher, chills (possible signs of infection)
- Dizziness (especially when changing position), sudden swelling or rapid weight gain,
little or no urine output (for 8-12 hours), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing,
irregular heartbeats, or chest pain.
The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not an emergency.
Contact your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the
- Diarrhea (4-6 episodes in a 24-hour period)
- Extreme fatigue (unable to carry on self-care activities)
- Swelling, redness and/or pain in one leg or arm and not the other
Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.
- Before starting sargramostim treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about any
other medications you are taking (including prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins,
herbal remedies, etc.). Do not take aspirin, or products containing aspirin
unless your doctor specifically permits this.
- Do not receive any kind of immunization or vaccination without your doctor's approval
while taking sargramostim.
- Sargramostim must be given at least 24 hours after the last dose of chemotherapy
and 12 hours after radiation therapy.
- Inform your health care professional if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior
to starting this treatment. Pregnancy category C (use in pregnancy only when
benefit to the mother outweighs risk to the fetus).
- For both men and women: Do not conceive a child (get pregnant) while taking sargramostim.
Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, are recommended. Discuss with
your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.
- Do not breast feed while taking this medication.
- Injection tips:
- Allow sargramostim to come to room temperature before injecting.
- Rotate injection sites.
- Do not rub the skin before or after injections.
- Apply ice to the site for 1 minute immediately prior to injecting.
- Inject slowly.
- Drink at least two to three quarts of fluid every 24 hours, unless you are instructed
- If you are taking sargramostim for low white blood cells following chemotherapy,
you may be at risk of infection so try to avoid crowds or people with colds and
those not feeling well, and report fever or any other signs of infection immediately
to your health care provider.
- Wash your hands often.
- For flu-like symptoms, keep warm with blankets and drink plenty of liquids.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help relieve discomfort from fever, headache and/or
generalized aches and pains. However, be sure to talk with your doctor before
- Get plenty of rest.
- Maintain good nutrition.
- If you experience symptoms or side effects, be sure to discuss them with your health
care team. They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are
effective in managing such problems.
Monitoring and Testing:
You will be checked regularly by your health care professional while you are taking
sargramostim, to monitor side effects and check your response to therapy.
Periodic blood work to monitor your complete blood count (CBC) as well as the function
of other organs (such as your kidneys and liver) will also be ordered by your doctor.
How This Drug Works:
In the body's bone marrow (the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones) blood
cells are produced. There are three major types of blood cells; white blood
cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen to and remove
waste products from organs and tissues; and platelets, which enable the blood to
clot. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can effect
these cells which put a person at risk for developing infections, anemia and bleeding
problems. Colony-stimulating factors are substances that stimulate the production
of blood cells and promote their ability to function. They do not directly
affect tumors but through their role in stimulating blood cells they can be helpful
as support of the person's immune system during cancer treatment.
Sargramostim is a growth factor that stimulates the production, maturation and activation
of three types of white blood cells (WBC): neutrophils, macrophages and dendritic
cells. Each of these three cells has a distinct purpose and function within
the immune system. Neutrophils are the most abundant WBC and are the first
to respond to the site of an infection. Their purpose is to capture and digest
foreign invaders such as bacteria. Macrophages also capture and digest foreign
invaders but are longer acting and recognize more invaders than neutrophils.
Dendritic cells make up less than 1% of WBC's but are extremely important.
They continuously scan their environment and alert other cells when they find something
foreign such as an infection.
For patients receiving chemotherapy, sargramostim can accelerate the recovery of
these white blood cells that can then enhance recovery. Sargamostim is also
used to stimulate the early stem cells prior to harvesting for peripheral stem cell
transplant, and stimulate recovery of bone marrow cells after bone marrow transplantation.
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health
care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information
contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.
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