High-dose interleukin 2 (IL-2) immunotherapy

Providence Cancer Center offers one of the top five high-dose IL-2 immunotherapy programs in the country and the largest program in Oregon.

What is IL-2?

One of the most successful immunotherapies available today, Interleukin-2 is an FDA-approved treatment for metastatic kidney cancer and metastatic melanoma.

What types of cancer does IL-2 treat?

Unlike other common treatments, such as chemotherapy, IL-2 has the potential to bring about long-lasting responses and even cures in about one in 10 patients with these cancers:

  • Metastatic kidney cancer
  • Metastatic melanoma

How IL-2 works

The treatment involves giving patients high doses of a protein, called IL-2, that’s normally present in small amounts in the body. IL-2 doesn’t attack cancer cells directly – it helps the immune system do the job by enhancing the ability of certain white blood cells, called T cells, to target and kill cancer cells. Boosting the amount of IL-2 in the body increases the power of the immune system to eliminate cancer cells.

IL-2 Treatment

Eligibility for treatment with high-dose IL-2 is determined by medical history, physical examination, blood tests, X-rays or scans and an evaluation of heart, lung, kidney and liver function.

Patients treated with high-dose IL-2 are hospitalized for six to seven days in the oncology unit at Providence Portland Medical Center, where a highly trained team of physicians and nurses administers IL-2 intravenously and provides close monitoring and care during this rigorous treatment regimen. After a two-week break, a second cycle of IL-2 treatment is given, following the same procedure as the first cycle.

A month after the second cycle, CT scans or other scans are done to see how well the tumor has responded to the treatment. If the cancer has shrunk, two more cycles of IL-2 will be given. If the cancer continues to shrink, a patient can receive up to six cycles of high-dose IL-2.

Research: IL-2 + radiation for improved results

Our goal is to improve on the already known success rate of IL-2. We are currently enrolling patients in clinical trials comparing IL-2 treatment alone and in combination with stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for metastatic melanoma and metastatic renal cancer. Providence Cancer Center is the first center in the world to combine these two treatments for patients.

In previous research studies, SBRT alone not only shrank tumors, but also improved the immune system’s response to cancer. Based on these promising results, we are optimistic that the two treatments together will have a positive effect, strengthening the immune system even further to fight the cancer. See before-and-after scans of three pilot-study patients and read about one patient’s astonishing results.

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