Review Article

Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 519-527

First online:

Growth factors and cytokines in the prevention and treatment of oral and gastrointestinal mucositis

  • Inger von BültzingslöwenAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, Göteborg University Email author 
  • , Michael T. BrennanAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Medicine, Carolinas Medical Center
  • , Fred K. L. SpijkervetAffiliated withDepartment of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University Medical Center and University of Groningen
  • , Richard LoganAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Pathology, Dental School, University of Adelaide
  • , Andrea StringerAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital
  • , Judith E. Raber-DurlacherAffiliated withDepartment of Hematology, Leiden University Medical CenterDepartment of Periodontology, Academic Centre of Dentistry
  • , Dorothy KeefeAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital

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Goals of work

Growth factors and cytokines may be useful in preventing chemotherapy (CT)- and radiotherapy (RT)-induced oral and gastrointestinal mucositis. Two systematic reviews of the medical literature on growth factors and cytokines for the amelioration of CT- and RT-induced mucositis throughout the alimentary tract were performed by the Mucositis Study Group of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer/International Society for Oral Oncology. The aim of these evidence-based scientific reviews was to critically evaluate the literature and create evidence-based guidelines for the use of growth factors and cytokines in the prevention or treatment of CT- and RT-induced mucositis.


The two reviews covered articles on clinical trials from January 1966 through May 2002 and preclinical studies from June 2002 through May 2005, respectively. The systematic review process was based on a well-established method for evaluating scientific literature.

Main results

The number of articles in the first review was 29. In the second review, 23 articles were evaluated, 14 preclinical and 9 clinical studies. It was concluded from the first review that there was no sufficient evidence to provide any recommendations for clinical practice guidelines regarding growth factors and cytokines. From the second review, a guideline could be presented recommending the use of recombinant human keratinocyte growth factor-1 (palifermin) to prevent oral mucositis in patients receiving high-dose CT and total body irradiation followed by stem cell transplantation for haematological malignancies. A guideline could also be provided suggesting that granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor mouthwash not be used for the prevention of oral mucositis in the transplant setting with high-dose CT and autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantation.


These systematic reviews have provided clarity and shown exciting new results. Further studies will provide new options for this debilitating side-effect of cancer therapy.


Growth factor Cytokine Mucositis (oral, gastrointestinal, alimentary) Mouth Cancer therapy Chemotherapy Radiotherapy Mucosal barrier injury Mucositis management