Interferons And Interleukins: Immunomodulators With Cancer-Fighting Possibilities

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The question on whether or not an individual’s strong immune system can keep him from getting cancer is a complicated one. This is especially so since scientists still have much to learn about the dreaded cancer disease. A cancer, as we know, continually sheds some of its cells, which are then carried to other body parts and have the capacity to produce secondary growths (metastases). It appears that in the early stages of a cancer, the immune system is able to neutralize the cells and prevent the disease from spreading.

As we also know, the human body produces certain substances that affect the functioning of the immune system. These substances are called immunomodulators. Two of these immunomodulators with cancer-fighting possibilities are interferons and interleukins. By simple definitions, interferons are virus-fighting chemicals, while interleukins are hormone-like proteins.

As immunomodulators with cancer-fighting possibilities, interferons have the capability of slowing the rate at which cancer cells grow and increase in number. Inasmuch as cancer cells grow and multiply very rapidly, any chemical that slows them down helps to ward off cancer. Clinical trials reveal that interferons can indeed reduce the rate of growth of some cancerous tumors and leukemias.

On the other hand, part of the function of interleukins seems to be to convert lymphocytes (cells that partly constitute the white blood cells of the human blood) into cancer-neutralizing cells. In a sense, the lymphocytes are activated by the interleukins and move across the body in search of cancer cells to be destroyed. At least one of these interleukins, the interleukin-2 (IL-2), appears to improve the disease-fighting capabilities of the lymphocytes, and thus makes the immune system more effective in detecting and attacking cancer cells.

Many scientists are convinced that many cancers might be destroyed by somehow harnessing or boosting the immune system. Through DNA-cloning techniques, scientists at several research centers have now been able to create large quantities of these immunomodulators in the laboratory. With these resources of interferons and interleukins, doctors are working to stimulate the immune system of cancer patients into attacking cancer cells or, at the least, slowing their growth.

Going back to that question at the beginning of this article, researchers are now of the opinion that a strong and active immune system does help to recognize and destroy cancer cells before they can increase in number and spread. The functions of interferons and interleukins as immunomodulators with cancer-fighting possibilities have definitely helped a great deal in this regard.


1. “Understanding and Comparing Immunomodulators”, (online) –

2. “The Role of Interferon in Cancer Therapy: A Current Perspective”, on CA – A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (online), by David Goldstein, MD, Research Associate in the Department of Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin; and John Laszlo, MD, Senior Vice President for Research of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia –

3. “Interleukins”, on Cancer Treatment Centers of America (online) –

4. “Biological Therapies: Using the Immune System To Treat Cancer”, on The Cancer Information Network (online) –


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