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The Use of Interferon Therapy for Neuroendocrine Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/16/2011

Interferon therapy in neuroendocrine cancer is an important part of the treatment plan in advanced stages. It helps to reduce the symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.

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    Interferon Treatment for Neuroendocrine Cancer

    Interferon therapy in neuroendocrine cancer may help to reduce the symptoms and shrink the tumor size. Somatostatin analogs, chemotherapy and interferons may be used individually or in combination to treat neuroendocrine cancers. Chemotherapy is the traditional treatment for this disease, but recent clinical trials indicate that monoclonal antibodies may become a new therapeutic treatment in the future.

    Surgery is the basic preferred treatment for this cancer, but it is rarely an effective or comprehensive treatment by itself. Therefore, most experts agree that additional medical interventions such as interferon therapy are an important part of the treatment plan. The therapy is not curative, but it can help to prolong the patient’s life and alleviate the symptoms at an advanced stage of the cancer.

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    Dosage of Interferon and Its Effect

    Interferon is administered by injection just under the skin. Two or three dosages are given in a single day. The treatment has shown positive biochemical response in several studies of endocrine pancreatic cancers. The effectiveness of somatostatin analog to retard the proliferation of tumor and reduce its size remains a subject of debate, but there is growing evidence to show that high dosages of this treatment may produce a desired response.

    A high dosage is seen to reduce the size of the tumor in many patients of neuroendocrine cancer. It may also be helpful to reduce symptoms in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. In the Western world, including the United States, clinical trials are continuing to evaluate the effects of high dosages of interferon treatment.

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    Alpha Interferon Therapy in Neuroendocrine Cancer

    In the last few decades, IFN therapy has been used on patients suffering from endocrine pancreatic cancer. Different patients have been administered different dosages of this treatment with varying results. Studies of several patient groups have shown that alpha interferon has the properties to inhibit tumor growth, cut down hormone secretion, and reduce clinical symptoms. Some studies have shown substantial tumor reductions of more than 50 percent in one in every five patients who underwent this therapy.

    A number of patients with malignant carcinoid syndrome and carcinoid tumors have been administered IFN in different doses. It has resulted in varying results, with about 40 percent of the patients showing tumor stabilization, and about 20 percent showing a considerable shrinkage of the tumor. A majority of patients experienced subjective improvement with this therapy.

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    Side Effects of Interferon Therapy

    One of the mild side effects of this therapy that is seen in a majority of patients is flu-like symptoms. These symptoms may last for less than a week, and they can be managed well with paracetamol. A number of patients may also show symptoms of tiredness and fatigue. Minor weight loss is observed in around 60 percent of the patients. Some patients may also go through a phase of psychological depression.

    About 30 percent of patients may show an increase in liver enzymes after the therapy. Some patients may also develop auto-immune reactions. Patients who have been administered recombinant alpha interferons may develop antibodies that could neutralize the anti-tumor effect of the treatment. In such cases, the doctor may change the treatment to human leukocyte interferon in order to maintain the anti-tumor impact.

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