Find out what the biological therapy drug interferon is, why you might have it and what the side effects are.
What it is
Interferon is also called interferon alfa. It is a man made copy of a substance that the body makes as part of the immune response. This is when the body reacts to anything it recognises as foreign or abnormal, for example infection or cancer cells.
Interferon works in several ways. It directly interferes with how cells grow and multiply. It stimulates the immune system by encouraging immune system cells, such as killer T cells, to attack cancer cells. It also encourages cancer cells to produce chemicals that attract the immune system cells.
Interferon is used to treat several different types of cancer, including carcinoid.
Interferon for carcinoid
Doctors may use interferon to treat carcinoid that has spread, often if other treatment is not working (second line treatment).
It can reduce the symptoms of carcinoid in 40 to 70 out of 100 people (between 40 and 70%). It may also help to control the growth of the tumours.
You may have interferon on its own or with a somatostatin analogue, such as octreotide.
How you have it
You usually have interferon as an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously). You normally have it 3 times a week. You can learn how to give the injections yourself, so you don’t have to travel to hospital for treatment.
Side effects of interferon include:
- tiredness (fatigue)
- flu-like symptoms
- feeling sick
- loss of appetite
- changes in the way your liver works