Interferon (Intron® A or Sylatron™)
Adjuvant therapy is secondary cancer treatment, given after primary treatment with surgery, to help delay or prevent the recurrence of cancer.
Immunotherapy is treatment that stimulates the body's immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. As a systemic treatment, it travels through your bloodstream to reach all parts of your body.
Interferon is a type of immunotherapy patients receive as adjuvant therapy to reduce the risk of melanoma relapse.
What is Interferon?
Interferon, with the brand names Intron A and Sylatron, is an adjuvant immunotherapy for patients with high-risk melanoma. High-risk melanoma is usually defined as melanoma that is deeper or thicker (more than 4 mm thick) at the primary site or involves nearby lymph nodes.
In 1995, interferon became the first adjuvant therapy that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved to treat people who have had surgery to remove advanced melanoma tumors.
Following the removal of the primary melanoma, interferon may stop the growth and spread of any remaining melanoma cells. The drug can delay the recurrence of melanoma, but it has not been shown to significantly increase patients’ overall survival time.
How Does Interferon Work?
The normal function of interferon, as a protein naturally produced by the body, is to fight viruses and other infections and diseases. Interferon is a genetically produced version of the natural body protein for use as a drug that stimulates the body’s immune system to find and kill melanoma cells.
As an adjuvant cancer therapy, interferon targets any lingering melanoma cells and prevents them from spreading and growing. The treatment works by:
- Stimulating the immune system to develop T cells (a type of white blood cell that fights disease and infection) to attack melanoma cells
- Causing cancer cells to release chemicals that attract cancer-killing immune system cells
- Slowing the growth and spread of melanoma cells
Two types of interferon are FDA-approved as adjuvant treatment for patients with high-risk melanoma: Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) and peginterferon alfa-2b (Sylatron). The main difference between the two drugs is that Sylatron remains in the blood longer than Intron A. That means that Sylatron can be given at lower doses for a longer period of time.
Which Patients May Benefit from Interferon?
In 1995, the FDA approved Intron A as an adjuvant therapy to surgery for patients in these advanced stages of melanoma:
- Patients with stage III melanoma (lymph node involvement) who are cancer free but are at a high risk of recurrence
- Patients with stage IIB or IIC melanoma who have primary lesions that are thicker than 4 mm
The FDA approved Sylatron in 2011 as an adjuvant treatment for patients who have melanoma that has spread to their lymph nodes, within 84 days after surgery to remove primary melanoma tumors and affected lymph nodes.
How is Interferon Given?
Patients receive Intron A in several ways:
- As an infusion into a blood vein (intravenously or via IV)
- As an injection either:
- Subcutaneously (under the skin)
- Intramuscularly (into a muscle)
Patients usually receive Intron A in two phases (induction and maintenance) over one year. In the induction phase:
- Patients receive the maximum tolerated dose five days per week for four weeks.
- Each infusion takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.
- Patients receive Intron A by IV infusion in their physician's office, a hospital setting (such as an infusion center) or at home.
During the maintenance phase:
- Patients receive injections three times a week for the rest of the year (48 weeks).
- Patients (or their family members or caregivers) can administer the injections themselves without the need for a hospital or physician visit.
Patients receive Sylatron as a subcutaneous injection, also in two phases:
- 6 mcg/kg per week for eight doses
- 3 mcg/kg per week for up to five years
What Are the Goals of Interferon Therapy?
Interferon is an adjuvant therapy that works to:
- Control the growth and spread of melanoma
- Delay the recurrence of melanoma after primary treatment
- Stimulate the immune system to respond to melanoma and destroy any remaining tumor cells
Melanoma treatments, like interferon, have side effects, which can sometimes be serious. Patients should talk with their physician to learn more about the side effects of interferon and other melanoma treatment options.
What Should I Ask My Doctor About Interferon?
It’s important to keep in mind that not all treatments work for all patients. If you are interested in learning more about interferon, here are some questions you should ask your physicians:
- Am I eligible for interferon?
- What is your experience with interferon?
- Is interferon a good option for my melanoma treatment?
- Is there an alternative to interferon for me?
- How successful has interferon been for patients like me?
- What are the side effects of interferon?
- Are there any clinical trials for interferon or other adjuvant therapies that I should consider?
- What other treatments are FDA-approved as adjuvant therapy for melanoma?
- What are the risks and benefits of the available adjuvant options?
- What are the goals for my treatment?
New Treatments for Melanoma
Patients with high-risk melanoma have more options to treat their cancer. Read about the latest, most effective treatments:
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
- Therapies in development
- Radiation therapy
Since its founding in 2007, the Melanoma Research Alliance has awarded over $100 million to research aimed at better preventing, diagnosing and treating melanoma. Learn more about our funded research.
Last reviewed: May 2016
Reviewers: John Kirkwood, Lynn Schuchter, Louise Perkins