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Interferon Therapy for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Interferons are a family of substances naturally made by our immune system (CML).Interferon-alpha is a man-made drug that acts like the substance our immune system naturally produces. It reduces the growth and division of leukemia cells. Interferon-alpha is the type most often used in treating chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

Interferon was once the best treatment for CML, but now, the tyrosine kinase inhibitors are the mainstay of treatment and interferon is rarely used.

To treat CML, this drug is most often given as a daily injection (shot) under the skin. It may also be injected into a muscle or vein. It's given for many years.

Side effects of interferon

Interferon can cause significant side effects. These include "flu-like" symptoms like muscle aches, bone pain, fever, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Patients taking this drug may have problems thinking and concentrating. Interferon can also lower blood cell counts.

Side effects continue as long as the drug is used, but can become easier to tolerate over time. They get better after the drug is stopped. Still, some patients find it hard to deal with these side effects every day and may need to stop treatment because of them.

More information about immunotherapy

To learn more about how drugs that work on the immune system are used to treat cancer, see Cancer Immunotherapy.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Leukemia - Chronic Myeloid - CML: Treatment Options. 11/2016. Accessed at on May 16, 2018.

Last Revised: June 19, 2018

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