Leukemia Chronic Myelogenous Immunotherapy

Interferon therapy is a form of immunotherapy used in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Interferon therapy strengthens the immune system, suppressing CML cell growth. Interferon therapy is not usually the first choice for CML treatment. Instead, immunotherapy treatments are used when other treatment proves ineffective or are not an option, or as a supplemental treatment.

Immunotherapy for Cancer

Immunotherapy — also referred to as “biotherapy” or “biologic therapy” — uses the body’s natural defenses to combat disease. Some types of immunotherapy work by stimulating the immune system. Immunotherapy for cancer strengthens the immune system with artificially produced interferon proteins.

Interferon Therapy and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

The immune system naturally produces interferon proteins. Scientists have identified three types of interferon proteins: alpha, beta and gamma interferons. Other classes of interferon may exist, but have not yet been discovered. Interferon therapy uses artificially produced interferons. The proteins are created using recombinant DNA technology.

Each class of interferon acts in a slightly different way, although they share many abilities. Interferons do not kill bacteria, cancer cells or other threats directly. Instead, interferons boost the immune system and impair the replication of fast-growing cancer cells.

Interferon alpha appears best suited for immunotherapy for cancer, especially for blood cancers. In addition to chronic myelogenous leukemia, interferon therapy may be used to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, hairy cell leukemia, AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma and multiple myeloma.

Interferon therapy is not a first-line treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia. Interferon therapy is offered if other treatments, such as imatinib therapy, prove ineffective, or if targeted therapy isn’t an option.

Interferon Therapy Side Effects

Despite its basis on naturally occurring proteins, immunotherapy for cancer is not without risks. Interferon therapy causes a number of side effects, such as tissue damage at the injection site.

People receiving interferon therapy may develop flu-like symptoms after an injection. Such symptoms vary in severity and include chills, fever, headaches, malaise and muscle aches. High doses of interferon can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Joint or back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Some people undergoing immunotherapy for cancer report depression or suicidal behavior. Whether interferon therapy causes these conditions remains unclear. Rates of depression are high among cancer patients, and can often be attributed to the disease itself, rather than the treatment. However, people undergoing immunotherapy for cancer should be monitored for signs of depression.


American Cancer Society. (2010). Leukemia – chronic myeloid (myelogenous). Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/Leukemia-ChronicMyeloidCML/DetailedGuide/leukemia-chronic-myeloid-myelogenous-treating-treating-by-phase.

American Cancer Society. (2010). Immunotherapy. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (2010). Immunotherapy. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page?item_id=18551.

Ogbru, O. (2010). Interferons. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/interferon/article.htm.