Interferon medication is a man-made version of a protein that is involved in the immune system. The body produces interferons to help fight against disease and infection. These proteins stimulate immune cells to destroy body cells that have become infected with viruses or cancer.
There are three main types of interferons: alpha, beta, and gamma. These groups of interferons work together to fight against bacteria, viruses, fungi, tumors, and other foreign substances that may enter the body.
Patients receive interferon treatment to help the immune system fight against disease or to help slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Interferon is commonly used to treat various cancers, such as skin cancer, Kaposi's sarcoma, and hairy cell leukemia. It is also used to treat viral infections, such as hepatitis (liver infection) and genital warts, caused by the human papilomavirus virus (HPV).
These medications are injected into the patient, and they are only available by prescription. The recommended dosage is based on the patient's disease, age, and overall health, as well as the type of medication. The duration of treatment also varies and medication may be given daily, weekly, or three times a week.
AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, cancer, chronic hepatitis, chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, chronic myelogenous leukemia, CMLA, condylomata acuminata, hepatitis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, immune, immune defense system, immune reaction, immune response, immune system, infection, interferon alfa-2a, interferon alfa-2b, interferon alfa-n3, interferon beta-1a, interferon beta-1b, interferon gamma-1b, Kaposi's sarcoma, malignant melanoma, melanoma, MS, multiple myeloma, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, skin cancer, tumors, white blood cells.
Actimmune®, Alferon-N®, Avonex®, Betaseron®, Infergen®, Intron-A®, Peg-Intron®, Pegetron®, Pegasys, Rebetron®, Roferon-A®.
General: Interferons have been used to help the immune system fight against diseases and infections. There are several different types of interferons, including interferon alfa-2a, interferon alfa 2-b, interferon alfa-n3, interferon beta-1a, interferon beta-1b, and interferon gamma-1b.
Interferon alfa-2a: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A®) for the treatment of certain cancers, including hairy cell leukemia (cancer of the blood and bone marrow), AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma (cancer of soft tissue), and a type of bone marrow cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Researchers are currently studying the safety and efficacy of interferon alfa-2a for the treatment of about 18 other cancers and 11 other viral infections.
Although interferon alfa-2a has been suggested as a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), studies have shown that the medication is not effective for this condition.
Interferon alfa-2b: The FDA has approved interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A®) for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, skin cancer (melanoma), genital warts caused by the human papilomavirus, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, and chronic hepatitis B and C (liver infections). Patients typically receive interferons before or after surgery for melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes. The use of interferon may increase the survival time for patients with advanced melanoma.
Interferon alfa-n3: The FDA has approved interferon alfa-n3 (Alferon-N®) for the treatment of genital and perianal warts caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Interferon beta-1a: The FDA has approved interferon beta-1a (Avonex®) for the treatment of a degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord called multiple sclerosis (MS).
Interferon beta-1b: The FDA has approved interferon beta-1b (Betaseron®) for the treatment of MS.
Interferon gamma-1b: The FDA has approved interferon gamma-1b (Actimmune®) for the treatment of chronic granulomatous disease (condition that causes tumor-like masses of inflammatory tissue) and severe malignant osteopetrosis (cancer that causes the bones to become dense and increases the risk of bone fractures).
Combination products: Some interferon products are combined with other medications. The FDA has approved a combination product called Pegetron® for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C. This medication is made up of an antiviral medication called ribavirin (Copegus®, Rebetol®) and interferon alpha-2b.
In addition, the FDA has also approved ribavirin that is taken by mouth in combination with intravenous alfa-2b, interferon alfacon-1 (Infergen®), interferon alfa-2a, or interferon alpha-2b for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.
Depression: There have been reports of depression and suicide among patients who received interferons. However, it is unclear whether the condition being treated or interferons caused the depression.
Flu-like symptoms: Flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, and general feeling of discomfort, have been reported after injections with interferons. These symptoms, which occur in up to 50% of patients receiving intravenous interferons, vary from mild to severe. In general, flu-like symptoms diminish with future injections.
Tissue damage: All interferons can damage the tissue near the injection site, including the skin. This is most common with interferon beta-1b (Betaseron®) and interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A®).
Other: Other side effects may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, joint aches, abdominal pain, back pain, and dizziness. Less common side effects may include an eating disorder called anorexia, stuffy nose, increased heart rate, confusion, low white blood cell count, low red blood cell count, low platelet count, increase in liver enzymes, increase in triglycerides, mild hair loss, temporary skin rash, swelling (edema), difficulty breathing, and cough.
Interactions: Patients should tell their healthcare providers if they are taking any other drugs (prescription or over-the-counter), herbs, or supplements because they may interact with treatment.
HIV patients who are taking the anti-HIV drug zidovudine (Retrovir®) may require lower doses of interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A®), interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A®), or interferon beta-1b (Betaseron®) because each of these drugs may increase blood levels of zidovudine. High levels of zidovudine in the blood may increase the risk of liver toxicity and other side effects associated with the drug. If patients are taking zidovudine, some physicians recommend reducing the dose of interferons by as much as 75%.
Patients who are taking theophylline (such as Bronkodyl®) to treat asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or other lung conditions may require lower doses of interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A®) or interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A®). This is because the interferons may increase the time it takes for theophylline to be eliminated from the body.
Do not use alcohol or illegal drugs while taking interferon.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding: It remains unknown whether or not interferons are safe during pregnancy. Therefore, interferons should be avoided during pregnancy as a precautionary measure. Animal studies have found that using doses that are 100 times greater than the doses used in humans cause an increased risk of miscarriage.
Due to a lack of safety information, patients who are breastfeeding should not take interferons.