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About interferon and interleukin 2

The body makes interferon alpha and interleukin in very small amounts. They are proteins that belong to a group of chemicals called cytokines. They can boost the immune system so doctors sometimes use them to treat cancer. Because of the way it works, doctors sometimes call this type of treatment immunotherapy.

Interferon and interleukin work by

  • 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  

Interferon

You are most likely to have interferon as an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously). But some people have it into the bloodstream through a drip (infusion). Most people have interferon 3 times a week but you may have it as a daily injection. How often you have it depends on your type of cancer.

Interleukin 2

You are most likely to have interleukin 2 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 your type of cancer.

Side effects

The possible side effects of interferon alpha and interleukin include tiredness and weakness, flu like symptoms , diarrhoea, low levels of blood cells, feeling sick and loss of appetite. Interleukin 2 can also cause low blood pressure.

 

What interferon and interleukin are

Interferon and interleukin are substances made by the body, in very small amounts. They belong to a group of body chemicals called cytokines. There are different types of interleukin.

Interferon and interleukin can boost the immune system, so doctors sometimes use man made versions to treat cancer. Because of the way it works, 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 alpha

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

You can have interferon alpha 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).

View a transcript of the video showing how to give a subcutaneous injection (opens in new window)

 

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

Interleukin 2 can also cause low blood pressure.

 

More information about interferon alpha and interleukin 2

There is detailed information about interferon alpha and interleukin 2 and their side effects in the cancer drugs section.

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Updated: 15 April 2013