Interferon

Interferon

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Interferon is used as a treatment for certain cancers like malignant melanoma, multiple myeloma and kidney cancers. It is actually a naturally occurring protein produced when the body is challenged by viruses, bacteria, parasites, microbes or cancer cells, but synthetic forms are usually used for the drug. Interferon alpha, the usual version used (the others are beta and gamma), stimulates the body’s immune system in the expectation that this will then overwhelm the cancer. Interferons belong to a class of proteins called glycoproteins and are cytokines. Interferon was discovered during work on Smallpox in Tokyo and Influenza in London.

Interferons are antiviral and possess anti-carcinogenic properties. They can enhance the ability of T-cells to recognise a ’foreign’ cell, then activate Natural Killer cells to attack and macrophage activity to ’digest and remove’.

Because only small amounts are naturally found in the body, the sudden large levels do cause significant side effects - including depression, dizziness, pins and needles, loss of appetite, sickness, fatigue and flu-like symptoms. In some cases hair loss and fertility loss have also occurred.

Treatments vary in duration. You may need to go into hospital, or a nurse may come to your home. It is even possible to self-administer. The Interferon is usually given by subcutaneous injection in the abdomen or thigh and phials should be kept in the refrigerator. Localised skin irritation may occur.

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