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The long-term use of interferon is effective for patients with advanced renal cell (kidney) cancer, according to a recent article published in Cancer.

The kidneys are a pair of bean shaped organs located on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter the blood and eliminate waste in the urine through a complex system of filtration tubules. All of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys approximately 20 times an hour. Renal cell cancer is an uncommon form of cancer that is most often characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the lining of the filtration tubules of the kidney. Metastatic renal cell cancer refers to cancer that has spread outside the kidneys to distant locations in the body. The prognosis for patients with metastatic renal cell cancer following standard therapy is poor.

Interferon is a substance naturally produced in the body that stimulates the immune system to initiate an attack against foreign cells. It has been shown to produce anti-cancer activity as a single agent in renal cell cancer, however, optimal treatment doses have not yet been established.

Recently, researchers from Finland conducted a clinical trial evaluating the long-term use of interferon-2a (a synthetically derived form of interferon) in 75 patients with metastatic renal cell cancer. Patients received interferon-2a thrice weekly with a one week pause each month for 2 years – or until their cancer progressed. Anti-cancer response rates and stabilization of cancer was achieved in 60% of patients. Late anti-cancer responses occurred after one year of treatment in 4% of patients. The average time to disease progression was 12.3 months and the average overall survival was approximately 19 months. Six patients discontinued therapy due to side effects including fatigue, liver and heart complications.

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These results suggest that interferon-2a administered thrice weekly for 3 weeks in patients with metastatic renal cell cancer is effective at producing anti-cancer responses. Patients responding to this treatment appear to benefit from long-term use of this therapy regimen. Patients with metastatic renal cell cancer may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of long-term treatment with interferon-2a or the participation in a clinical trial aimed to further refine optimal dosing of interferon. (Cancer, Vol 92, Issue 4, pp 761-767, 2001)

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