Interferon Alfa (Generic Name)

Other Names: Roferon®-A, Intron® A

About This Drug

Interferon Alfa is used to treat cancer. This drug can be given in the vein (IV), by a shot into your muscle (IM), by an injection under the skin (SQ), or put on the skin (topically).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue (low energy, feeling weak)
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Feeling tired
  • Decreased appetite (decreased hunger)

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may raise your risk of infection, make you tired and weak (fatigue), and raise your risk of bleeding.
  • Mild nausea and throwing up (vomiting). These symptoms may happen within a few hours after your treatment and may last up to 24 hours. Medicines are available to stop or lessen these side effects.
  • Hair loss: Most often hair loss is temporary; your hair should grow back when treatment is done.
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) or constipation (not able to move your bowels)
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Rash: A rash that looks like acne may happen on your face and upper back when taking this medicine. Your doctor can give you medicine to help treat this.
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dry mouth and/or dry throat
  • Change in taste
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain may go away and come back or it can be constant. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes pain is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
  • Fast heartbeat or a feeling that you heart is not beating in a normal way (palpitations)
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred vision or double vision
  • Feeling nervous
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling like you cannot concentrate or that you are less alert mentally
  • Depression or other mood changes
  • Changes in your liver function.  Your doctor will check your liver function as needed. 
  • Irritation at the injection site

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions may happen. Tell your nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms while you are getting the drug:

  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat quickly or in a not normal way (palpitations)
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Flushing, itching, rash, and/or hives

Treating Side Effects

  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake due to some other health problem. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you throw up or have loose bowel movements, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack water in the body from losing too much fluid).
  • Talk to your doctor about how to treat flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and sweating.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine to help stop or lessen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, headache, muscle and joint pain, feeling nervous, and/or trouble sleeping.
  • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you are having mood swings or feeling sad or depressed.
  • If you get a rash, do not put anything on it unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medicine if your rash bothers you.

Other Instructions

Do not take any non-steroidal or steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs unless your doctor or nurse says you may. 

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of interferon with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are taking at this time. The safety and use of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often not known. Using these might 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 help. 

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Trouble catching your breath or feeling short of breath
  • Rash or itching
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling your heart beat quickly or in a not normal way (palpitations)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than twice in one day
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain may go away and come back or it can be constant. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes pain is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911. 
  • Changes in vision such as blurred vision or double vision

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

  • Pain in your mouth or throat that makes it hard to eat or drink
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) more than 4 times in one day or diarrhea with weakness or feeling lightheaded
  • Nausea that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Pain in arms or legs that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Headache that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Lasting loss of appetite or weight loss of five pounds or more in one week
  • Extreme tiredness that interferes with normal activities
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Rash or dry and itchy skin that bothers you
  • Feeling nervous
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Decreased mental alertness or feeling like you cannot concentrate
  • Trouble sleeping

Reproduction 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. Talk with your doctor or nurse about effective methods of birth control.
  • Genetic counseling is available for you to talk about the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. Also, a genetic counselor can look at the possible risk of problems in the unborn baby due to this medicine if an exposure happens during pregnancy.
  • Breast feeding warning: Women should not breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and badly harm a breast feeding baby.

Revised July 2014

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