While it can be given as monotherapy, it is more often used concurrently or just after other traditional cancer treatments including radiation and/or chemotherapy.
This mode of therapy involves systemically infusing specific cytokines, interferons and interleukins, to boost the immune response.
Currently, the two main cytokines used during cancer treatment are Interferon alpha (IFN-alpha), which slows cancer cell growth, and interleukin-2 (IL-2), which signals the immune system to produce additional cells to fight against cancer. IL-2 is currently used in the treatment of melanomas and kidney cancers that have metastasized to other regions of the body. IFN-alpha is also used in the treatment of melanoma and kidney cancer, in addition to certain leukemias and lymphomas. Often cytokine therapy is used in combination with other immunotherapies to enhance their effectiveness.
Example of FDA Approved Therapy
Aldesleukin (Proleukin; Boehringer Ingelheim, Prometheus Laboratories) is a recombinant form of IL-2 with similar immune activity to the natural IL-2 produced by the immune system. Currently, the FDA has approved Proleukin for the treatment of advanced and metastatic melanoma as well as metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC).
IL-2 therapy enhances the immune response against tumor cells by blocking reproduction of cancer cells, increasing production of white blood cells that attack tumors, and stimulating the release of chemicals from cancer cells to attract additional immune cells to attack the cancer.
The exact mechanism by which aldesleukin induces an anti-tumor response is not fully understood but has demonstrated an overall response rate of 16% in metastatic melanoma and 15% metastatic RCC. Aldesleukin is associated with a number of toxicities, and as such may not be appropriate for all patients.
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