Aldesleukin: High-Dose (Generic Name)

Other Names: IL-2, Proleukin, interleukin-2

About This Drug

IL-2 is used to treat cancer. High-dose IL-2 is given intravenously  (IV).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

    • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Bone marrow depression may increase your risk of infection, fatigue, and bleeding.
    • Soreness of the mouth and throat. You may have red areas, white patches, or sores that are painful.
    • Nausea and vomiting. These symptoms may occur within several hours after you receive the drug and may last up to 24 hours. Drugs are available to prevent and lessen these side effects.
    • Diarrhea that may last for several days
    • Changes in kidney function. Your kidney function will be checked as needed.
    • Itching
    • Raised, red rash on your arms, legs, back, or chest
    • Dry skin, which includes roughness, chapping, scaling, flaking, or redness
    • Flu-like symptoms. You may have a fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue.
    • Chills may occur 1 to 4 hours after receiving IL-2
    • Chest pain
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Difficulty catching your breath
    • Swelling of hands and feet and sometimes face. This usually occurs by the second day of treatment.
    • Difficulty breathing when lying flat
    • Low blood pressure
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Weight gain
    • Decreased urination
    • Irritability, confusion, or agitation
    • Muscle weakness
    • Lightheadedness or dizziness
    • Congestive heart failure. You may be short of breath.  Your arms, hands, legs and feet may swell
    • Changes in the tissue of the heart. Some changes may occur that can cause your heart to have less ability to pump blood. Your heart function will be checked as needed.
    • Abnormal heart beat
    • Damage to the heart is rare. Your doctor will monitor your heart function as needed
    • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. Or the discomfort may go away and come back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes discomfort is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
    • Lung tissue changes. IL-2 may cause fluid to build up in your lungs, making it harder for you to breathe.
    • Weight gain. This is a temporary fluid weight gain and will decrease after treatment.
    • Changes in liver enzymes. Your liver enzymes will be checked as needed.

    Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

    • Decreased appetite
    • Changes in thyroid gland function. Your thyroid gland will be checked as needed.
    • Urine that is dark, cloudy, and has a bad odor.
    • Trouble sleeping, nightmares
    • Trouble remembering
    • Hallucinations
    • Depression
    • Seizures. This effect is rare.
    • Taking this drug can cause an increased risk of having an allergic reaction to iodine contrast which may be used in some x-ray procedures. This may occur while you are in treatment with IL-2 and for 1 year after you receive the last dose of this drug. Before you have an x-ray procedure involving an iodine contrast material, speak with your cancer specialist (oncologist) for further instructions.

    Sexual Problems and Reproductive Concerns

    • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
    • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking.
    • Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred. 
    • Breast feeding warning: Women are advised not to breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.

    Treating Side Effects

    • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids every day unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake due to another medical condition. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
    • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of gently brushing with a very soft tooth brush and rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after every meal and at bedtime.
    • Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.
    • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine to help prevent or lessen nausea and vomiting 
    • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
    • Be careful when cooking, walking, handling sharp objects, and hot liquids.
    • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you feel you need help with moods.

    Food and Drug Interactions

    There are no known interactions of IL-2 and any food. Interferon (alpha) can enhance the adverse effects IL-2, especially cardiac and renal complications. This drug may interact with other medications. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines that you are currently taking and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor’s advice.

    Allergic Reactions

    Allergic reactions including anaphylaxis are rare but may occur in some patients. While you are receiving this drug by IV, tell your nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Rash or itching
    • Swelling of the face
    • Feeling like your tongue or throat
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)

    When to Call the Doctor

    Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
    • Chills
    • Difficulty catching your breath
    • Unusual bleeding or bruising
    • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
    • Vomiting more than 3 times in 1 day
    • Chest pain or tightness. If this lasts 2 minutes or longer, call 911.
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Swelling of feet, hands, or neck
    • Weight gain of 5 pounds or more in 1 week
    • Difficult or painful urination
    • Urinating smaller amounts than usual
    • Dizziness
    • Difficulty waking up
    • Agitation, seizures, or hallucinations
    • Diarrhea of 5 or 6 stools in 1 day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
    • Confusion
    • Yellowing of the skin or eyes 


    Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • Painful mouth or throat that makes it difficult to eat or drink
    • Nausea unrelieved by prescribed medicine
    • Pain in arms or legs unrelieved by prescribed medicine
    • Headache unrelieved by prescribed medicine
    • Persistent loss of appetite for more than 7 days
    • Weight loss of 5 pounds or more in 1 week
    • Extreme tiredness that interferes with normal activities
    • Extreme drowsiness
    • Rash that is bothersome
    • Changes in your mood
    • Trouble sleeping, nightmares

Revised November 2011

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