Thoughts on Interferon

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7/6/2014 10:45pm
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Replies: 28

I have read SO many mixed views on Interferon. I'll be starting it soon for year, 5 times a week for the first month, and 2-3 times a week for the rest of the 11 months. Lately i've been reading that is only "prolongs" the cancer, not getting rid of it for good. Has anyone done it and have been clear? Also I don't understand how it is supposed to help. One person described it as your immune system fighting it. If that's the case why are there all these bad side effects that make you sick? I'm 19 and I don't want to be sick for a year and  have it come back and I did it for nothing. I know no matter what there's always that chance, but like I said lately i've been reading that it only prolongs it. I'd love to hear everyone's personal experiences. 

brittanyx - (7/6/2014 - 10:49pm)

I'm stage lll and I want a treatment that will get rid of it completely. 

SABKLYN - (7/6/2014 - 11:27pm)

Hi Brittany,

i think less and less melanoma specialist use this treatment.  It's a personal decision of course and one that you should make after evaluating all the options.  I understand ipi as an adjuvant is showing a lot of,promise. Mits a tough choice for all of us Stage 3!folks. ,but do,your research, make the choice you feel most comfortable with and move forward.  

Anonymous - (7/7/2014 - 7:51am)

Interferon is a very old treatment that will soon be forgotten.  It is only out there because there is profit for the company that sells it.  It is no longer used in Hepatitis or autoimmune disease either.  Are you going to a place with melanoma experts?  The studies show no overall survival benefit.  Ask your doc about fertility issues you might face and also if you or family have any history of depression don't do it!!!  It is a toxic drug.

gaby - (7/7/2014 - 1:33pm)

Hi Brittany

My husband is stage IIIa from june 2012 At that time the oncologist gave him two optiones:  watch and wait  or pegylated interferon for 2 years. He did not felt comfortable with doing nothing,  So He started  pegylated interferon on October 2012.

 

Interferon is a variant of pegylated interferon , which according to statistics is more effective than interferon alfa , and is more tolerable. Should be to consult the doctor about pegylado interferon (intron or sylantron )

MY husband is with pegylated interferon since October 2012, he has a normal life , working full time. The  most annoying symptom is fatigue. My husband is now 40 years old.

 

Side effects that my husband has after the first month and still continue:

Hairloss

dry skin

problems with vision and teeth

joint pains

loss of muscle mass

headache

fatigue, fatigue and fatigue! this is the worst

insomnia

some anemia

increased triglycerides

increase in transaminases (liver damage)

sometimes dizziness and memory loss

loss of concentration

infertility

 

The first two months were high doses, then half of the dose.

Despite all He is living a normal life, and  working full time.

 

While there are no guarantees, my husband wanted to do the treatment.

 

Greetings from Argentina

Gaby

JerryfromFauq - (7/12/2014 - 6:28am)

Gaby, glad to hear that things are going well for your husband now.  Love iot!

I'm me, not a statistic. Praying to not be one for years yet.

ecc26 - (7/7/2014 - 9:53am)

Don't listen to people who tell you it's a terrible idea and not worth it, or that it's outdated and a relic. That's their opinion. You do what you feel is best for YOU! Talk to your doctors, gather the information and make the choice that you are most comfortable with. Right now it's still the only FDA approved option for stage III, so unless you want to go into a trial, if you want a therapy, this is the only option. The data on whether or not it prevents it from coming back is confusing and realistically not all that great, but like I said- there's not much else out there. I did interferon for a year as a stage IIIb. Unfortunately i did progress less than a year later, but I don't regret doing the interferon. The first month will be the worst- it's higher doses each day and by the end of the month I was really sick- do you have someone to help drive you to/from appointments? Also, ask about being able to take a week off after the first month before you start on the self injections 3 times a week- it makes a big difference long term in the way you feel because you get a few days to recover. You'll feel better and better for a couple of weeks after you start the 3 times a week, but then will sort of hit a plateau and have a pretty good idea how you'll feel for the rest of the year. i also found that after a month or so I adjusted to my "new normal". It wasn't that bad for me after the first month, but other posters are right- everyone's different and some people have a really hard time with it. Good news is that all the side effects go away FAST once you stop and none of them seem to be permanent in any way. 

As to your other questions (why does it make you so sick, etc). Interferon, Yerovoy, the new PD-drugs, IL-2, the BRAF inhibitors, etc NONE of them actually kill the cancer for melanoma. Melanoma is a tough bugger and so far they haven't really found anything that actually kills the cancer itself without being too toxic for people. All of these drugs are classified as immunomodulators or immunotherapies, which mean they act on your immune system to try and convince your body to kill it's own cancer. Some of the therapies are more targeted than others (these are the newer drugs for stage IV patients) and often have fewer side effects. Interferon and IL-2 are the oldest and are general immune stimulators as opposed to targeted therapies like the anti PD-1 drugs that are in trials right now. Both IL-2 and interferon are chemicals that your own body makes when you get a virus (like the flu), just given in much larger doses than what your body produces. The fever, nausea, headaches/body aches, etc that you get when you get the flu are because of the chemicals your body makes in response to the virus, not due to the virus itself. The body tries to basically cook the virus (fever) and a bunch of other things to get rid of it, including activating specialized immune cells (called natural killer cells) whose job it is to recognize and destroy infected or otherwise abnormal cells. The idea behind any of these immunotherapies is to kick that process into overdrive and activate a whole army of those cells to better the chances of killing the cancer cells, which are by definition abnormal. The problem with Melanoma is that it's very good at fooling those immune cells, otherwise we wouldn't have Melanoma to start with.

The newer drugs are more targeted as more is being learned about how those immune cells work and how Melanoma is successful in hiding from the immune system, but as I said earlier, all of those are only available for stage IV patients unless you want to participate in a clinical trial. The difficult thing for many being on a trial for stage III is there's no way to know if the drug is working as most people don't have any disease to follow, they're trying to prevent new disease. If no new disease develops who's to say it was the drug and not just that it wasn't going to develop anyway? The same is true for interferon, which is why so many are down on it as a therapy, particularly given the possible side effects. You may never know if it helped or not, but for me I wanted to do something, and that was the only available option at the time. If I had chosen not to do interferon, would I have progressed earlier? Who knows, but I know if I hadn't done it, I would have been kicking myself forever wondering if it would have prevented anything.

Talk to your doctors, make the decision that feels right to you, and stick to your guns. Don't let other's opinions persuede you into doing something other than what you think is best for you.

Good luck

CHD - (7/7/2014 - 10:15am)

ecc26,

Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this.  It is the clearest, most helpful explanation of how interferon and the other treatments work that I have ever read. 

Cheri

JerryfromFauq - (7/12/2014 - 6:33am)

Ipi and PD-1 are immunotherapies as is IL-2.  They just work on different points in the immune system and may have worse negative long term effects .

 

I'm me, not a statistic. Praying to not be one for years yet.

Colleen66 - (7/7/2014 - 10:13am)

I did the HD Interferon but Doc stopped after that because of side effects.  Not all people have severe side effects, Some I have seen worked thru the treatments.

For me, it was my only option, being state 3b, I did the treatments about a year and a half ago.  I just recently developed Immunotherapy Mediated Vitiligo which is a good thing.  My immune system finally kicked in and started to destroy Melanoma Cells on my skin.  Vitiligo improves your prognosis.  I don't know how many people actually develop this.  

I don't regret one minute of the treatment even tho it was hard for me.  Any thing that helps my immune system is good with me.  I have been stable since the treatments.  

Colleen

Live!

Ginger8888 - (7/7/2014 - 10:49am)

I did the 30 day hd interferon with just a little fatigue, no other side effects but it didn't work for me but that's not saying it won't for you, i am stage 3 C and i just  finished my second infusion of Yervoy with no side effects for far..I've got 2 more infusions and i'm done with it and hoping it works..Good luck

Gene_S - (7/7/2014 - 11:07am)

Hello Brittany,

I checked your profile and it doesn't state where you are located or where you are being treated.  I was just wondering if you were being seen by a melanoma specialist.  This can mean better treatment care as they are more versed on how melanoma works and they can better take care of the side effects for the drugs used to help fight it.

My husband chose not to do interferon when it was offered to him as he did research and said what he found was that it only extended life by one year and his oncologist agreed.  He said he would rather be not sick for a year and enjoy his life then to have flu like symptoms for a year.

It was his opinion but you have to go with what feels good to you.

Judy (loving wife of Gene Stage IV and now NED)

Live 4 today. Thank God for all he has done for us. Looking forward to enjoying tomorrow.

Anonymous - (7/7/2014 - 11:21am)
Helping Melanoma Patients Decide Whether to Choose Adjuvant High-Dose Interferon-α2b
 

http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/content/10/9/739.full

 

Ed Williams - (7/7/2014 - 12:13pm)

I just went and read the oncologist article from the anonymous reply and it is a very good read Brittany. I did high dose interferon in June 2012 and I didn't do well on it. I was going to do the full year but decided to stop after one month. June 2013 the Melanoma came back in my lung and brain. The question I asked myself in 2012 was do nothing!!!! or try Interferon with no real way of knowing if it is working? I was active before starting the treatments, riding my mountain bike 3 or 4 times a week and lifting weights 2 days a week. That came to a crashing halt by the second day of treatments. They had to keep reducing the dose of the drug each week since I was really struggling physically and mentally. A good support system around you is important if you decide to go ahead with the treatments. The article in the oncologist talks about your mental health as being an important consideration, and from my personal experience it is also important to consider!!! I think by the end of week two my wife was ready to explode. It could be that guys are just such babies when we are sick but it seemed like my life was put " hold" during the treatments. Didn't want to eat, drink, talk or do anything athletic, I couldn't even drive to the hospital by myself. Thinking back on my Interferon experince and then comparing it to my present treatments is like night and day. I am able to ride my bike almost every day even on treatment days. I have been on BMS phase three trial of Ipi and Nivilumab for the last 6 months. You have some tough decisions to make and I wish you all the best!!! ED   

Becky - (7/7/2014 - 1:14pm)

Brittany, since you have already made the decision to do interferon, do it with no regrets. There is no right answer. You can always stop at first month if it's too bad. I understand there are no other options for 3a other than watch and wait.

you are young , that is to your benefit I think. There is another young woman who went through interferon 5 yrs ago and is now in nursing school and doing well (maybe I can get her email for you ) . My son  was 21 when he did the year and he just turned 26 , doing well . I don't think either had regrets even though we will never know if it contributed to his continued NED.

as my son was going through the year, I read all the articles and threads on message boards how it's an outdated therapy with no clear benefits. Since the decision had been made ( by the way with a second opinion with a melanoma specialist at Stanford who never told us not to try it) I felt guilty at whatever hand I had on his decision, but I don't think he regrets the choice. 

Wishing you all the best. 

 

Anonymous - (7/7/2014 - 2:08pm)

Brittany,

Many of these posts are filled with bad information.  REad the article that was posted for your truth.  And please look at the major side effect of INFERTILITY.  You are only 19 and i'm sure would like to have children one day.  This drug does not extend your survival, you will lose a year to feeling awful though.

Cooper - (7/7/2014 - 2:13pm)

ECC26 is so filled with misinformation.  To quote him/her: As to your other questions (why does it make you so sick, etc). Interferon, Yerovoy, the new PD-drugs, IL-2, the BRAF inhibitors, etc NONE of them actually kill the cancer for melanoma. Melanoma is a tough bugger and so far they haven't really found anything that actually kills the cancer itself without being too toxic for people.  NOT TRUE:  Yervoy and Pd1 and the BRAF drugs ALL have caused long term remissions, destroying tumors and the PD1 has the highest response yet it is the least toxic.  Toxicity doesn't equal "killing cancer."  In fact, it destroys your immune system.  Go to an expert, like at Sloan Kettering in NYC where they stopped prescribing it 10 years ago or more.  Or Mayo clinic.    ECC26 is writing out of the dark past of cancer treatment where you nearly kill people to get a response.

CHD - (7/7/2014 - 2:46pm)

This sounds like a tough decision to make.  From the article:  In the case of HD IFN, the question is: How much risk is a median improvement in progression-free survival of less than a year worth to the patient, knowing that there is no improvement in overall survival?

I commented above that ecc26's response was clear and helpful to me.  Just wanted to say that I did not interpret him/her to have said that tumors aren't destroyed.  It sounded like he/she was pointing out that it is the immune system that is doing the destroying, not the drug, which activates the immune system. 

At any rate, I can't argue with the wisdom of going to a major cancer center for a second opinion.

ecc26 - (7/7/2014 - 3:40pm)

Thank you CHD, you interpreted my post correctly. While it is true that toxicity does not equal success in killing cancer (there are many who have had terrible side effects and not good results) my point was that outside of immunotherapies (i.e in the realm of drugs that are actively toxic to cancer cells themselves, aka chemotherapies) research has not found drugs that are reliably successful at killing the cancer without also being unacceptably toxic to the patient, hence the use of immunotherapy in Melanoma.

ecc26 - (7/7/2014 - 3:36pm)

Actually, it is true- the drug does not kill cancer. Long term remissions do happen with them but not because the drug kills the cancer, but because the drug is successful in activating the immune system enough that the immune system kills the cancer. Big difference. In cancers where chemo is successful the drug kills the cancer. Melanoma immunotherapies are NOT chemo and do not attack and kill cancer cells- it's the immune system that does that in sucess stories. Please read and UNDERSTAND a post before claiming incorrectness, and do not pass judgement on other's decisions and experiences. That is insulting, rude, and unproductive.

 

Anonymous - (7/7/2014 - 4:16pm)

Not true with targeted therapies at all, so that is misinformation.  You can't lump these all together.  But it must be admitted that these new drugs are far more successful than the old IL1 and interferon and will soon be in the stage III offerings.  Chemo has never worked for melanoma and these drugs (PD1 and IPI) are so much better.

   Great that Brittany is going to get another opinion, rather than just forge ahead and not look back.  You at least get two opinions for a new roof right?  And you need a roof specialist.

ecc26 - (7/7/2014 - 5:15pm)

Actually, still true for targeted therapies. There is, admittedly the difference that the targeted therapies block a receptor on the tumor rather than the immue cell, but the goal and outcome are the same- to get the immune system to recognise and kill the cancer cell. BRAF and other inhibitors do not directly kill cancer cells. I will also aknowledge that some of them will inhibit growth, but again, inhibiting growth is not the same as killing the cells- if it was, there would be no development of resistance in patients taking these drugs.

Yes, the newer drugs are more effective than the old drugs, I never said they weren't. What I said was that they are not yet available to stage III patients outside of clinical trials, they are currently only available to stage IV pateints (and even PD-1 is still restricted to EAP and trial pending FDA approval). I also never indicated that chemo ever worked for melanoma, in fact I stated that this is why immunotherapies are used for this type of cancer. 

I also never said anything about going for second opinions- I've been to at least 3 specialists at 3 different and well known treatment centers. Yes, I believe that at least one specialist should be involved and gathering other professional's opinions is an excellent idea. Please stop trying to insert content into my posts that is not there.

And for others thinking I'm "old school"- quite the opposite. I'm 33 and was diagnosed in 2011, I've been through every FDA approved therapy out there, including the inhibitors and am now in the Merk PD-1 EAP, so I am actually quite up to date on my information about side effects, how the drugs work,  and what's available. My goal with these posts is not to make people angry or preach about what they should do. My goal instead is to do my best to answer their questions, and give them support without passing judegment on the poster or their choices. When appropriate I may relay my experiences (side effects, success etc) and/or my decision process, but I try very hard not to try to convince someone else of what they should or should not do- that is their own personal decision, as have been my own decisions.

Becky - (7/7/2014 - 8:51pm)

For the person who said there was a lot of misinformation in these posts and then went on to say infertility was a major side effect of interferon? I have not seen this is any of the literature, and it was a question we asked as my son was only 21. It bothers me that you would imply to Brittney that she either choses having children or this treatment .

By the way, exc26 I appreciate your thoughtful and unbiased replies

ecc26 - (7/7/2014 - 9:51pm)

Thank you, Becky. I apologize for allowing myself to be baited into a conversation that I think distracted from Brittney's questions. I don't often post and generally try not to get engaged in defensive arguments or aggressive (or what appears aggressive to me) opinions, but I also get upset when posters really try to talk people out of a decision they have made because they themselved made a different decision. We all know these are never easy decisions to make and they are deeply personal. This forum is supposed to be a place of support and shared experience, not criticism. 

Again, I am sorry for the role I played in a conversation that was distracting from the original post. I am glad however that some understood my posts as I intended and may have found them helpful.

Lil0909 - (7/8/2014 - 2:18am)

I'm 29 yeat old, female, stage 3a, and doing interferon now. I had 2 major cancer centers and melanoma specialists recommend the treatment. Yes, the side effects suck.... but there is no way I could do nothing when something was an option. I asked all of my doctors and PA's about infertility, as i would have done an egg harvest prior to treatment if it would cause infertility, and all of them said treatment would not cause any infertility after the treatment is over. You should not get pregnant while on treatment, and and interferon could cause you not to be able to get pregnant while on treatment, but you should be totally fine afterwards.

As others have said, you have to make your own decision, and then don't look back. It sucks, I get a fever with every single shot... but i deal with it because i want to know that I did everything I could to make sure it doesn't come back.

Lil0909 - (7/8/2014 - 2:18am)

I'm 29 yeat old, female, stage 3a, and doing interferon now. I had 2 major cancer centers and melanoma specialists recommend the treatment. Yes, the side effects suck.... but there is no way I could do nothing when something was an option. I asked all of my doctors and PA's about infertility, as i would have done an egg harvest prior to treatment if it would cause infertility, and all of them said treatment would not cause any infertility after the treatment is over. You should not get pregnant while on treatment, and and interferon could cause you not to be able to get pregnant while on treatment, but you should be totally fine afterwards.

As others have said, you have to make your own decision, and then don't look back. It sucks, I get a fever with every single shot... but i deal with it because i want to know that I did everything I could to make sure it doesn't come back.

Cooper - (7/8/2014 - 9:43am)

This is information from the American Cancer Society which states Interferon DOES affect fertility:

+-Text Size

 
Interferons, Alfa

(in-ter-feer-on al-fuh)

Trade/other name(s): Intron A (interferon alfa-2a), Roferon-A (interferon alfa-2b), PEG-Intron (peginterferon alfa-2b), Sylatron (peginterferon alfa-2b), IFN-a, alpha interferon (α interferon)

Why would this drug be used?

Alpha interferons are used to treat certain types of leukemias and lymphomas, skin melanomas, and Kaposi sarcoma. They may also be used to treat other cancers, as well as other conditions (such as hepatitis or genital warts).

How does this drug work?

Interferons are part of a family of proteins called cytokines. Immune system cells in the body normally make small amounts of interferons as a way to communicate with each other. The interferons attach to other immune cells, activating them to help the body fight infections and tumors.

Man-made versions of these substances are sometimes used as a form of immunotherapy – they boost the body's immune system to help it fight diseases, including cancer. Interferons may also slow the growth of tumor cells directly.

While alpha interferons (IFN-α) are more commonly used to help treat certain cancers, other forms of interferon are used to treat other conditions. Manmade forms of interferon beta (IFN-β) help against multiple sclerosis, while forms of interferon gamma (IFN-γ) can be used to treat some other non-cancerous conditions.

Before taking this medicine
Tell your doctor…

  • If you are allergic to anything, including medicines, dyes, additives, or foods.
  • If you have any type of heart disease or any heart rhythm disorder. In some people this drug may affect the heart's function or rhythm.
  • If you have ever had depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or other mental illness. Some people taking this drug have reported feeling depressed or having thoughts of suicide. Some people with addictions go back to drug or alcohol use.
  • If you have ever had lung disease (such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis) Interferon may cause lung problems or make existing lung problems worse.
  • If you have an autoimmune disease (where the body's immune system attacks the body's own cells, such as rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, lupus, psoriasis.). This drug may make these conditions worse.
  • If you have any other medical conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease (including hepatitis), thyroid problems, bleeding or clotting problems, congestive heart failure, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, colitis (inflamed bowel), or high triglycerides (fat in the blood). This drug may make some of these conditions worse. You may need closer monitoring of these conditions while being treated, or the drug dose, regimen, or timing may need to be changed.
  • If you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • If you have had an organ transplant and must take medicine to keep your body from rejecting the organ.
  • If you have any type of eye problem. This drug may affect your vision or cause existing eye problems to become worse.
  • If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or if there is any chance of pregnancy. It is not known if this drug might cause problems if either the male or female is taking it at the time of conception or during pregnancy. Check with your doctor about what kinds of birth control can be used with this medicine. This drug should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit is thought to justify the potential risk to the fetus.
  • If you are breast-feeding. While no studies have been done, this drug may pass into breast milk and affect the baby. Talk with your doctor about the possible risks of breast-feeding while taking this drug.
  • If you think you might want to have children in the future. This drug can affect fertility. Talk with your doctor about the possible risk with this drug and the options that may preserve your ability to have children.
  • About any other prescription or over-the-counter medicines you are taking, including vitamins and herbs. In fact, keeping a written list of each of these medicines (including the doses of each and when you take them) with you in case of emergency may help prevent complications if you get sick.

Interactions with other drugs

Telbivudine (Tyzeka, a drug for hepatitis B) may increase the risk of numbness, burning, and tingling in the hands or feet, and trouble walking if given with interferon alfa.

Using this drug with ribavirin may cause a serious type of anemia (hemolytic anemia).

Theophylline (a drug to help breathing) may build up quickly in the body if it is given with interferon alfa, and cause serious side effects.

Any drugs or supplements that interfere with blood clotting can raise the risk of bleeding during treatment with alfa interferons. These include:

  • Vitamin E
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and many others
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
  • Heparin injections of any type
  • Ticlopidine (Ticlid)
  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)

Note that many cold, flu, fever, and headache remedies contain aspirin or ibuprofen. Ask your pharmacist if you aren't sure what's in the medicines you take.

Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about your medicines, herbs, and supplements, and whether alcohol can cause problems with this medicine.

Interactions with foods

No serious interactions with food are known at this time. Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about whether some foods may be a problem.

Tell all the doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists you visit that you are taking this drug.

How is this drug taken or given?

Interferon alfa is given by an injection. This may be into a vein (intravenous, or IV), under the skin (subcutaneous, or SubQ), or into a muscle (intramuscular, or IM). It may be given in a doctor's office, or you or a family member can be taught how to give the medicine under the skin.

Interferon injections are often given either daily or several times a week, but the dose and the number of doses depend on your body size, general health, and the type of cancer being treated. Different brands of interferon may have different strengths, so make sure you are using the same brand over time.

Make sure you know your correct dose and exactly how this drug is to be given before you take it. If you are not sure, call your doctor or nurse for a review of the instructions.

Keep this medicine in its original container and store it in the refrigerator. Do not freeze the powder or liquid. Store the syringes, needles, and supplies in a safe place, out of the reach of children and pets.

Use a special sharps container to dispose of the used syringes and needles. You should be able bring the filled sharps container back to your doctor's office once it's full. Ask your nurse or doctor about this.

Precautions

Most people taking this drug experience flu-like symptoms, which can include feeling tired all the time, as well as fevers, headache, and muscle and joint pains. This may interfere with your ability to perform certain tasks. Drinking plenty of fluids and taking medicines for the fever and pain may help you.

This drug may cause drowsiness and may affect activities such as driving. Wait until you find out how it affects you before driving or operating other dangerous machinery. Alcohol, sedatives, "nerve pills," or sleeping pills may worsen this effect.

Some people notice feeling depressed or even having thoughts of suicide while on this drug. A few people become aggressive or threatening towards others. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you note serious changes in your mood or emotions.

This drug can cause allergic reactions in some people when the drug is given. Mild reactions usually consist of fever and chills. More serious reactions happen rarely, but can be dangerous. Symptoms can include feeling lightheaded or dizzy (due to low blood pressure), fever or chills, hives, skin rash or blisters, nausea, itching, headache, coughing, shortness of breath, or swelling of the face, tongue, or throat. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you notice any of these symptoms during or after being given the drug. Your doctor or nurse will likely give you medicine to try to prevent a reaction.

Your doctor will likely test your blood throughout your treatment, looking for possible effects of the drug on blood counts (described below) or on other body organs. Based on the test results, you may be given medicines to help treat any effects. Your doctor may also need to reduce or delay your next dose of this drug, or even stop it altogether. Keep all your appointments for lab work and doctor visits.

This drug can lower your white blood cell count, especially in the weeks after the drug is given. This can increase your chance of getting an infection. Be sure to let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have any signs of infection, such as fever (100.5° or higher), chills, diarrhea, pain or burning when passing urine, new onset of cough, or bringing up sputum.

This drug may lower your platelet count in the weeks after it is given, which can increase your risk of bleeding. Speak with your doctor before taking any drugs or supplements that might affect your body's ability to stop bleeding, such as aspirin or aspirin-containing medicines, warfarin (Coumadin), or vitamin E. Tell your doctor right away if you have unusual bruising, or bleeding such as nosebleeds, bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, or black, tarry stools.

This drug may lower your red blood cell count. If this occurs, it is usually a few months after starting treatment. A low red blood cell count (known as anemia) can cause shortness of breath, or make you to feel weak or tired all the time. Your doctor may give you medicines to help prevent or treat this condition, or you may need to get blood transfusions.

This drug may affect the eyes. Your doctor will likely examine your eyes before you start treatment. Let the doctor know right away if you notice changes in your vision.

Some people develop high blood sugar or even diabetes while on interferon, with symptoms such as increased thirst, losing weight, feeling tired, and bigger appetite.

Do not get any immunizations (vaccines), either during or after treatment with this drug, without your doctor's OK. Alfa interferons may affect your immune system. This could make vaccinations ineffective, or even lead to serious infections if you get a live virus vaccine during or soon after treatment. Try to avoid contact with people who have recently received a live virus vaccine, such as the oral polio vaccine or smallpox vaccine.

Call your doctor if you have cough, chest pain, or trouble breathing, or if you have severe pain in the belly or lower back.

Men and women should avoid conceiving a baby while getting this drug and for 6 months afterward. It should not be used during pregnancy, and men whose sex partners are pregnant should not get this drug. This drug can cause birth defects and other harm to the fetus. Talk with your doctor about the kinds of birth control that you and your partner can use during and after treatment. (Couples are usually asked to use 2 kinds of birth control for this entire time.)

Possible side effects

You will probably not have most of the following side effects, but if you have any talk to your doctor or nurse. They can help you understand the side effects and cope with them.

Common

  • Flu-like syndrome (may include fever, chills, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain)
  • Feeling tired or drowsy*
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair thinning or loss (may include face and body hair)

Less common

  • Low white blood cell count with increased risk of infection*
  • Low platelet count with increased risk of bleeding*
  • Depression, thoughts of suicide, or aggression*
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Mild diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritation at the place of injection
  • Hair thinning or hair loss
  • Abnormal blood tests which suggest that the drug is affecting the thyroid gland
  • Abnormal blood tests which suggest that the drug is affecting the liver or kidneys (Your doctor will discuss the importance of this finding, if any.)

Rare

  • Low red blood cell count (anemia) with symptoms like tiredness and shortness of breath*
  • Decrease in or loss of vision*
  • Allergic reaction*
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • Vomiting
  • Cough*
  • Shortness of breath*
  • Chest pain
  • Faster heart rate or change in heart rhythm
  • Low blood pressure (which may cause dizziness or fainting) during or up to 2 days after treatment
  • Diabetes*
  • Thyroid problems
  • Rash or dry skin
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Tingling sensations or numbness in hands or feet
  • Stroke or stroke-like symptoms with weakness, numbness, and trouble with coordination
  • Heart attack
  • Heart muscle problems (cardiomyopathy)
  • Problems with the liver that can include nausea, yellow skin or eyes, bleeding, or coma
  • Congestive heart failure (can cause shortness of breath or swelling in hands or feet)
  • Death due to lung failure, liver failure, autoimmune disease, suicide, or other cause

*See "Precautions" section for more detailed information.

There are some other side effects not listed above that can also occur in some patients. Tell your doctor or nurse if you develop these or any other problems.

FDA approval

Yes – first approved in 1986.

Disclaimer: This information does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for talking with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical needs.

 
 

 

Last Medical Review: 07/16/2012
L

Anonymous - (7/8/2014 - 9:48am)

Wow, I found that article too:  http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/guidetocancerdr...

That is the most complete list I've seen of side effects too..much better than just opinions.

Lil0909 - (7/8/2014 - 5:50pm)

Well... it's too late for me now to do anything about fertility issues. However, my dr has administered interferon to many many many patients ( like in the thousands) and has not seen this issue. So hopefully I'll call in line with what he has seen before.