How does biological therapy treat kidney cancer?

Biological therapy, or immunotherapy, is one treatment option for kidney cancer. Biological therapy may be used for patients whose cancer is more advanced and has spread to other parts of the body. In this kind of therapy, drugs mimic the effects of certain chemicals that are found naturally in the body. When they occur naturally, these substances help the body fight infection. When they're introduced to the body through drugs, they encourage the body's immune system to attack cancer cells. There are several types of drugs used for biological therapy for kidney cancer, including interferon and interleukin-2.

Biologic therapy, also called immunotherapy, is a form of treatment that uses the body's own natural ability (immune system) to fight cancer. In kidney cancer, immunotherapy is usually used only to treat advanced metastatic kidney cancer, since it can be hard to give and may cause serious side effects.

The main drugs used in immunotherapy are called cytokines, which are proteins that boost the immune system. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interferon-alpha are two types of cytokines used to treat advanced kidney cancer. Using both cytokines in low doses was once thought to lower the number of serious side effects. Most doctors now think that high-dose interleukin-2 alone has a better chance of shrinking a tumor. However, there are major side effects with this treatment.

Among the possible side effects of cytokine therapy, especially high-dose IL-2, are:
  • extreme fatigue
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • fluid buildup in the lungs
  • trouble breathing
  • kidney damage
  • heart problems
  • intestinal bleeding
  • diarrhea or abdominal pain
  • high fever and chills
  • fast heartbeat
  • mental changes

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.