Interferon Alfa

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
interferon alfa-2a Roferon A
interferon alfa-2b Intron A
peginterferon alpha-2b Sylatron

Interferon is usually given as a shot under the skin.

How It Works

Interferon is a man-made copy of a protein that is produced by the body in response to infection. It helps the immune system fight disease and may slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. It can make cancer cells too weak to protect themselves from the immune system.

Why It Is Used

Interferon may be used to treat some leukemias and other diseases, such as melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes and chronic hepatitis C.

How Well It Works

Research shows that interferon is better than busulfan or hydroxyurea in treating CML. But interferon also causes more side effects.1

The use of interferon may increase the survival rate of some people with melanoma.2

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • A change in behavior, or thoughts of harming yourself or others.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives, skin rash, or severe itching.
  • Feelings of severe depression.
  • Trouble with your eyesight.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, and fatigue. You may be able to feel better if you take the drug at bedtime along with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol).
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Changes in the way foods taste.
  • Headaches or dizziness.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Low blood cell counts, which may increase your risk of infection or bleeding.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Do not use alcohol or illegal drugs while you are being treated with interferon.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Reichard KK, et al. (2009). Chronic myeloid leukemia. In JP Greer et al., eds., Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology, 12th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2006–2030. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Kirkwood JM, et al. (2004). A pooled analysis of Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group and intergroup trials of adjuvant high-dose interferon for melanoma. Clinical Cancer Research, 10(5): 1670–1677.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised December 14, 2012

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