Aldesleukin (Proleukin ®)
Aldesleukin is a cancer treatment that is mainly used to treat people with a type of kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma. Sometimes it's also used to treat other types of cancer.
You should should read this information with our general information about your type of cancer.
Aldesleukin is a protein produced naturally in the body in very small amounts. It is produced by a type of white blood cell called a T-lymphocyte. It works as part of the body’s immune system (defence mechanism) in fighting illness.
Aldesleukin can also be made outside the body and is used as a treatment for some types of cancer including some kidney tumours, renal cell carcinoma and melanoma. It can be given on its own or in combination with other treatments.
Aldesleukin used to be known as interleukin-2 or IL2.
Aldesleukin stimulates the body’s immune system to fight some types of cancer. The exact way in which it works is still not fully understood. However, it can stimulate white blood cells to recognise and destroy some cancer cells.
What aldesleukin looks like
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Aldesleukin is a colourless fluid.
How aldesleukin is given
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Aldesleukin is usually given as an injection under the skin (subcutaneously). You, or a person caring for you, can be taught how to give the injections so that you can continue the treatment at home. Alternatively you may be given the injections by a district nurse or GP practice nurse.
Aldesleukin may also be given as a drip into a vein (intravenous infusion).
The length of the course of treatment, how often the injections are given and the dosage will vary according to your general health and the type of cancer you have. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss this with you.
Most people have aldesleukin as an outpatient. Some patients will have to stay in hospital for close monitoring. This may be necessary if treatment is given at higher doses, which may make side effects more severe.
Possible side effects of aldesleukin
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When you're given aldesleukin injections, the amount of aldesleukin in your body becomes much higher than normal. This is why you may have side effects even though aldesleukin is a naturally occurring substance.
Each person’s reaction to any drug is different. Some people have very few side effects while others may experience more. The side effects described here won't affect everyone having treatment with aldesleukin.
We've outlined the most common side effects, but haven't included those that are rare and therefore unlikely to affect you. If you notice any effects that aren't listed here, discuss them with your doctor or nurse.
The side effects of aldesleukin usually disappear once the treatment has finished.
These can occur quite soon after the drug has been given and make some people feel quite unwell. You may have aching joints or muscles, a high temperature, a lack of energy (lethargy) and chills. If you have these symptoms, it's important to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest. Paracetamol is often prescribed to help reduce these effects.
Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)
Your doctor can prescribe very effective anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to prevent, or greatly reduce, nausea or vomiting. If the sickness isn't controlled, or if it continues, tell your doctor who can prescribe other anti-sickness drugs that may be more effective.
Loss of appetite
Some people lose their appetite while they’re having aldesleukin. This may only last a few days, but if you continue to have a poor appetite you can ask to see a dietitian or specialist nurse at your hospital. They can give you advice on improving your appetite and keeping to a healthy weight.
Aldesleukin may cause your skin to darken or redden. It may become dry and itchy, and peel or blister. Your doctor can prescribe medicine and creams to help. If you already have a skin complaint, such as psoriasis, aldesleukin may make it worse.
During treatment and for several months afterwards, you will be more sensitive to the sun and your skin may burn more easily than normal. You can still go out in the sun, but should wear a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF), and cover up with clothing and a hat.
Changes in mood or behaviour
Let your doctor know if you feel anxious, agitated or confused.
Feeling tired is a common side effect of cancer treatment, especially towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s over. It’s important to try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. Try to balance this with taking some gentle exercise, such as short walks, which will help. If tiredness is making you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Your kidneys may be affected
Your doctors will check how well your kidneys are working with a blood test before and during your course of treatment with aldesleukin.
In some hospitals you'll be asked to measure and record everything you drink and the amount of urine you pass. You may be given medicine to help you pass more urine if you don't pass enough.
You may put on weight and/or your face, ankles and legs may swell. This improves slowly once your treatment has finished. Sometimes drugs can be given to help reduce the swelling.
Aldesleukin can reduce the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. A low red blood cell count is called anaemia. This may make you feel tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms. You may need to have a blood transfusion if the number of red blood cells becomes too low.
Changes in the way your heart works
In some people, aldesleukin can affect how the heart works. The effect on the heart depends on the dose given. Tell your doctor if your heartbeat feels irregular or if you have any chest pain.
Low blood pressure
The hospital team will check your blood pressure regularly during treatment. It's important to tell your doctor if you feel dizzy or faint.
It's important to let your doctor know straight away if you feel unwell or have any severe side effects, even if they're not mentioned above
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Some medicines, including those that you can buy in a shop or chemist, could be harmful to take when you are having aldesleukin. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
Your ability to become pregnant or father a child may be affected by having aldesleukin. It's important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.
It's not advisable to become pregnant or father a child while having aldesleukin as it may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception while taking this drug, and for at least a few months afterwards. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.
It’s not known whether aldesleukin can be present in semen or vaginal fluids. To protect your partner it’s safest to either avoid sex or use a barrier form of contraception for about 48 hours after chemotherapy.
There is a potential risk that aldesleukin may be present in breast milk so women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months afterwards.
If you’re admitted to hospital for a reason not related to the cancer, it’s important to tell the doctors and nurses looking after you that you are having aldesleukin treatment. You should tell them the name of your cancer specialist so that they can ask for advice.
It’s a good idea to know who you should contact if you have any problems or troublesome side effects when you’re at home. During office hours you can contact the clinic or ward where you had your treatment. Your specialist nurse or doctor will tell you who to contact during the evening or at weekends.
This information has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources including:
British National Formulary. 63rd edition. 2012. British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) http://www.emc.medicines.org.uk (accessed September 2012).
Thank you to Kavita Kantilal, Oncology Pharmacist, and all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed this edition. Reviewing information is just one of the ways you could help when join our Cancer Voices network.