High-dose interleukin 2 (IL-2) immunotherapy

Interleukin-2 is a protein normally present in small amounts in the body. It does not directly attack cancer cells.  It has powerful effects on the body’s immune system and enhances the ability of some white blood cells, called T-lymphocytes, to target and kill the cancer cells.  

The FDA has approved the use of IL-2 in the treatment of metastatic renal cell cancer and metastatic melanoma.  It has been available to patients since the mid-1980s, when the treatment was first offered in clinical trials. Fifteen to 20 percent of patients who received this treatment experienced shrinkage of their tumors. Some patients experienced a complete response after high-dose IL-2 treatment, meaning that their tumor went away completely. The majority of patients who experienced a complete response have stayed in a remission for many years. These successes led the Food and Drug Administration to approve high-dose IL-2 as treatment for metastatic kidney cancer in 1992 and for metastatic melanoma in 1997.

Providence Biotherapy Program is the only program in Oregon offering high-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2) immunotherapy to patients with metastatic kidney cancer and metastatic melanoma. 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 five days at Providence Portland Medical Center in the oncology unit, where a highly-trained team of physicians and nurses provide care during this rigorous treatment regimen. A second five-day admission  occurs after a two-week break from treatment. Additional treatment with high-dose IL-2 depends on the response of the patient’s tumor to the treatment.    

Approximately one month after the second cycle of IL-2, CT scans or other scans are done to evaluate response to the treatment.  If there is evidence the cancer has decreased in size, an additional two cycles of IL-2 will be given. The procedures are same as for the first two cycles. 

If the cancer continues to shrink, it is possible to receive up to six cycles of high-dose IL-2.

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