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Aldesleukin (IL-2, Proleukin or interleukin 2)

Find out what aldesleukin is, how you have it and other important information about having aldesleukin. 

Aldesleukin is a cancer treatment drug. It is also known as interleukin 2 (IL-2) or by its brand name Proleukin.

It is a treatment for kidney cancer. It is also used in clinical trials for other types of cancer. 

How it works

Aldesleukin is a man made protein. It is very similar to a protein produced by the body called interleukin-2 (IL-2). Interleukin-2 is part of the immune system. It activates certain white blood cells in the body called lymphocytes, which fight diseases and infections. 

Aldesleukin works in a number of ways. It:

  • works directly on cancer cells by interfering with how the cells grow and multiply
  • stimulates the immune system by encouraging the growth of killer T cells and other cells that attack cancer cells
  • encourages cancer cells to send out chemicals that attract immune system cells

How you have it

You usually have adesleukin as an injection just under the skin. You can also have it into your bloodstream. 

Injection just under the skin

You usually have injections under the skin (subcutaneous injection) into the stomach, thigh or top of your arm.

You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection but they don't usually hurt much. The skin in the area may go red and itchy for a while.

Drugs into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

When you have it

You usually have a daily injection under the skin for 5 days then 2 days rest. You have it like this for 4 weeks and then have a week without treatment. Then this 5 week cycle is repeated. The number of cycles of treatment you need depends on how well your cancer responds.

You might have aldesleukin into a vein over several days. This means you will need to stay in hospital. The team caring for you can keep a close eye on how you are coping with it. 

Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

Important information

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Fertility

We don’t know how this treatment might affect fertility. You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Some men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Some women might be able to store eggs or embryos before treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid contact with people who’ve had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines). This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s urine for up to 2 weeks and can make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.

You also need to avoid anyone who has had oral polio or typhoid vaccination recently.

Other illnesses

Tell your doctor if you have shingles or exposure to someone with chickenpox. This treatment may make shingles flare up. Let your doctor know if you have heart disease because this drug can affect your heart.
 

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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