Cytokines are a group of proteins in the body that play an important part in boosting the immune system. Interferon and interleukin are types of cytokines found in the body. Scientists have developed man made versions of these to treat cancer.
The man made version of interleukin is called aldesleukin.
How interferon and aldesleukin work
Interferon and aldesleukin 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
Interferon is also called interferon alfa or Intron A.
Doctors don’t use interferon very often any more. They use newer types of immunotherapy drugs instead. But doctors sometimes use interferon for a few cancer types including:
- kidney cancer (renal cell cancer)
- some types of leukaemia
- skin (cutaneous) lymphoma
You are more likely to have interferon as an injection just under the skin (subcutaneously). Or you might have it into the bloodstream through a drip (infusion).
How often you have it depends on which type of cancer you are having treatment for. Most people have interferon 3 times a week. Or you might have it as a daily injection.
The video below shows you how to give an injection just under your skin (subcutaneously).
Nurse: This is a short film showing you how to give an injection just under your skin. This is called a subcutaneous or sub cut injection.
This does not replace what your doctors and nurses tell you, so always follow their advice.
Voiceover: Subcutaneous injections may be part of your cancer treatment. Or, you may need them to prevent side effects of treatment, such as blood clots after surgery. Or to help control cancer symptoms, such as pain or sickness.
Most injections come in prefilled syringes.
Nurse: So, today I am going to show you how to give a subcutaneous injection. I am going to start by giving it into a practice cushion and then you can have a go at giving one yourself.
Before you start, you need to get your equipment together. What you are going to need is an alcohol wipe to clean your skin, some cotton wool, a prefilled syringe and a sharps bin.
It is important that you wash your hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly before you start.
Check that you have got the correct drug and that it is in date.
You can give the injection into the back of your arm, your tummy, your thigh or the outer part of your bottom.
It is important that you vary where you give the injection. So it may be that you give it one day in your tummy and the next in your thigh.
So you start by cleaning the skin with the alcohol wipe and allowing it to air dry.
Then you take the cover off the needle and pinch the skin up and hold it a bit like a pen and in an upright position, in a quick dart like motion pop it straight down into the skin.
Then you press the plunger right to the end, quickly pull the needle out, dab it with cotton wool, pop the needle into the sharps bin. And then you need to wash your hands again.
So here’s what you are going to need.
If you start by checking the drug and the expiry date. And then with the alcohol wipe give your skin a clean. That’s it give it a few seconds for the air to dry it.
OK and then if you want to pick up the syringe and take the cover off the needle. Then pinch your skin up and at a ninety degree angle gently push the needle in...then press the plunger...and then quickly remove it... dab your skin with the cotton wool and put the syringe in the sharps bin.
Aldesleukin is also called Interleukin 2, 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 this drug depends on which cancer you have.
Side effects of interferon and aldesleukin
The side effects of interferon and aldesleukin include:
- a drop in blood cells causing an increased risk of infection, bleeding problems, tiredness and breathlessness
- flu-like symptoms
- tiredness and weakness (fatigue)
- feeling sick
- loss of appetite
Aldesleukin can also cause low blood pressure.
For more information about the side effects of your treatment, go to the individual drug pages.