A possible breakthrough in understanding of cancer pain has been announced. A group at Heidelberg University, led by Prof Dr Rohini Kuner, has just published an article in Nature Medicine entitled Hematopoietic colony–stimulating factors mediate tumor-nerve interactions and bone cancer pain link to abstract.

Hematopoietic refers to the blood forming stem cells in bone marrow.  Tumors which  have metastasized from other organs into the bone have been found to produce hormone-like molecules, similar to those which stimulate blood cell formation, but which also stimulate growth of sensory nerve cells in the vicinity of the tumours.

The two molecules responsible are Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and Granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor, and it is hoped that their receptors on the nerve fibres in question can be targeted therapeutically to relieve cancer pain.

A somewhat less technical account, with reactions from cancer research charities, can be found in this BBC online article.