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Interferon is a type of protein (cytokinecytokineA substance made by cells of the immune system. Cytokines allow immune system cells to communicate with each other and thus help carry out the body’s immune response (the immune system’s reaction to the presence of foreign substances in the body).) that occurs naturally in the body. It is normally made by lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that fights viruses, bacteria, foreign substances or abnormal cells, including cancer cells). Interferon is used to treat some cancers and other diseases.

Interferon can improve the way the immune system acts against cancer cells. It is believed that some interferons may also stimulate natural killer cells, T cells and macrophages and boost the immune system’s reaction against cancer.

Interferon may act directly on cancer cells to slow their growth or help them develop into cells that look and act more like normal cells.

Types of interferon

The 3 types of interferon are:

  • interferon alfa (Intron A, Wellferon) – the most widely used in cancer treatment
  • interferon beta
  • interferon gamma

Use in cancer treatment

Interferon may be used to treat the following cancers:

  • kidney cancer
  • melanoma
  • cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides)
  • some types of leukemia
  • multiple myeloma

Interferon may be given alone or along with chemotherapy drugs.

Interferon is usually given as an injection into tissue just under the skin (subcutaneously). The dose and frequency of injections depend on the type of cancer being treated. It may be given on a daily basis to start, and then 3 times a week.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.


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