|Brand Name||Generic Name||Chemical Name|
|Roferon A||interferon alfa-2a|
|Intron A||interferon alfa-2b|
Interferon is usually given as a shot under the
How It Works
Interferon is a man-made copy of a protein
that is produced by the body in response to infection. It helps the
immune system fight disease and may slow or stop the
growth of cancer cells. It can make cancer cells too weak to protect themselves
from the immune system.
Why It Is Used
Interferon may be used to treat some leukemias and other diseases, such as melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes and chronic hepatitis C.
How Well It Works
Research shows that interferon is
better than busulfan or hydroxyurea in treating CML. But interferon also causes
more side effects.1
The use of interferon
may increase the survival rate of some people with
Side effects of treatment with interferon
are common and may include:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, muscle
aches, fever, chills, and fatigue. You may be able to feel better if you take
the drug at bedtime along with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (for
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Nausea and
blood counts, which may increase your risk of infection or bleeding.
Rare side effects include:
- Excessive amounts of
protein in the urine.
- Hair loss.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug
Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Interferon should be used only
under the supervision of a
medical oncologist or
hematologist. When interferon is used for chronic
viral hepatitis, a
gastroenterologist is most likely to supervise
Interferon may be combined with
imatinib to treat CML. It can also be used with other
drugs to treat melanoma or kidney cancer.
Clinical trials are
studying the use of interferon for melanoma that has spread or come
Interferon can cause birth defects. Taking this medicine is not recommended if you wish to become pregnant or to father a child while you
are taking it. But for young women with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) who are pregnant, there may be less risk in taking this medicine compared to other medicines, such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).
Do not use alcohol or illegal drugs while you are
being treated with interferon.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Reichard KK, et al. (2009). Chronic myeloid leukemia. In JP Greer et al., eds., Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology, 12th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2006–2030. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Kirkwood JM, et al. (2004). A pooled analysis of Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group and intergroup trials of adjuvant high-dose interferon for melanoma. Clinical Cancer Research, 10(5): 1670–1677.
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
December 17, 2010