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Interferon and Interleukin 2

Interferon alpha and interleukin 2 (aldesleukin) are treatments that can help to boost the immune system. They are a treatment for some types of cancer.

Interferon and interleukin

Interferon and interleukin are substances made by cells in the body to communicate with each other. They are proteins that belong to a group of chemicals called cytokines. 

Interferon and interleukin can boost the immune system, so doctors sometimes use man-made versions to treat cancer. Doctors sometimes call this type of treatment immunotherapy.

How interferon and interleukin work

Interferon and interleukin work in several ways, including:

  • interfering with the way cancer cells grow and multiply
  • stimulating the immune system and encouraging killer T cells and other cells to attack cancer cells
  • encouraging cancer cells to produce chemicals that attract immune system cells to them

How you have interferon

Doctors use interferon for several different types of cancer, particularly:

  • kidney cancer (renal cell cancer)
  • melanoma
  • multiple myeloma
  • some types of leukaemia

You can have interferon into the bloodstream through a drip (infusion). But you are more likely to have it as an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously).

How often you have it depends on which type of cancer you are having treatment for. Most people have interferon 3 times a week but you can have it as a daily injection.

The video below shows you how to give an injection just under your skin (subcutaneously).

How you have interleukin

Interleukin 2 is also called aldesleukin (or IL2 or Proleukin).

In cancer care, doctors use it most often to treat kidney cancer. It is also in clinical trials for some other types of cancer.

You are most likely to have it as an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously). But you may have it into a vein, either as an injection or through a drip.

How often you have interleukin 2 depends on which cancer you are being treated for.

Side effects of interferon and interleukin

Some of the side effects that interferon alpha and interleukin 2 can cause include:

  • tiredness and weakness (fatigue)
  • flu like symptoms
  • diarrhoea
  • low levels of blood cells
  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite

Interleukin 2 can also cause low blood pressure.

Information and help

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