Cancer Care

Interleukin-2 Immunotherapy Can Mean “Disease-free” for Some Patients

October 31, 2013

Interleukin-2 Immunotherapy Can Mean “Disease-free” for Some Patients

For metastatic kidney cancer patients, there is only one therapy that offers them the chance to have no evidence of the disease long-term. The same therapy also can give hope to melanoma patients. It’s called Interleukin-2 (IL-2).

I work with melanoma and renal cancer patients when they’re admitted for IL-2 immunotherapy.  IL-2 is FDA-approved and it boosts the body’s natural immune defenses against cancer. One advantage is that the doctor and patient know in about four weeks whether the treatment helps.  If it doesn’t, the patient can turn to chemotherapy and medications as another option.

Here’s what the patient can expect when he or she is admitted to the hospital for IL-2 treatment:

He arrives at 6:30 a.m. and blood tests are done immediately. He receives medicines to prevent or decrease fevers, nausea, and infections. Within a couple of hours of getting to the unit, he gets his first dose of IL-2.

Side effects may begin within an hour or two. This can consist of fevers or chills, but sometimes the patient feels good for a few days. Urine and fluid intake are measured and weight is taken every day.

The patient can expect to gain fluid weight, so loose clothing is advised. It will also help when doctors and nurses need to check his heart, lungs, skin, and IVs. He can be up and about as much as he can tolerate. Every eight hours, the physician will decide if he can get another dose; up to 14 IL-2 doses can be given.

The stay will probably last from Monday to Saturday or Sunday. The patient’s thinking may be “fuzzy” while in the hospital, his appetite poor and he’ll go home weighing more than when he came in. But all of that will improve.

The treatment doesn’t work for everyone but for some, it’s the only way they can be disease-free without being on medications for the rest of their lives.

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