The recommended dosage depends on the type of immunologic therapy. For some medicines, the physician will decide the dosage for each patient, taking into account a patient's weight and whether he/she is taking other medicines. Some drugs used in immunologic therapy are given only in a hospital, under a physician's supervision. For those that patients may give themselves, check with the physician who prescribed the medicine or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for the correct dosage.
Most of these drugs come in injectable form. These drugs are generally administered by the cancer care provider.
This medicine may temporarily increase the chance of getting infections. It may also lower the number of platelets in the blood, and thus possibly interfering with the blood's ability to clot. Taking these precautions may reduce the chance of such problems:
Avoid people with infections, if possible.
Be alert to signs of infection, such as fever, chills, sore throat, pain in the lower back or side, cough, hoarseness, or painful or difficulty with urination. If any of these symptoms occur, get in touch with a physician immediately.
Be alert to signs of bleeding problems, such as black, tarry stools, iny red spots on the skin, blood in the urine or stools, or any other unusual bleeding or bruising.
Take care to avoid cuts or other injuries. Be especially careful when using knives, razors, nail clippers and other sharp objects. Check with a dentist for the best ways to clean the teeth and mouth without injuring the gums. Do not have dental work done without checking with a physician.
Wash hands frequently, and avoid touching the eyes or inside of the nose unless the hands have just been washed.
Certain drugs used in treating cancer reduce the body's ability to fight infections. Although colony stimulating factors help restore the body's natural defenses, the process takes time. Getting prompt treatment for infections is important, even while taking this medicine. Call the physician at the first sign of illness or infection, such as a sore throat, fever or chills.
People with certain medical conditions could have problems if they take colony stimulating factors. People who have kidney disease, liver disease or conditions caused by inflammation or immune system problems can worsen these problems with colony stimulating factors. Those who have heart disease may be more likely to experience side effects such as water retention and heart rhythm problems while taking these drugs. Finally, patients who have lung disease might increase their chances of suffering from shortness of breath. Those who have any of these medical conditions should check with their personal physicians before using colony stimulating factors.
Epoetin is a medicine that may cause seizures (convulsions), especially in people who are prone to having them.
No one who takes these drugs should drive, use machines or do anything considered dangerous in case of a seizure.
Epoetin helps the body make new red blood cells, but it is not effective unless there is adequate iron in the body. The physician may recommend taking iron supplements or certain vitamins that help supply the body with iron. It is necessary to follow the physician's advice in this instance —recommendations for iron in this case, as with any supplements should only come from a physician.
In studies of laboratory animals, epoetin taken during pregnancy caused birth defects, including damage to the bones and spine. However, the drug has not been reported to cause problems in human babies whose mothers take it. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should check with their physicians for the most up-to-date information on the safety of taking this medicine during pregnancy.
People with certain medical conditions may have problems if they take this medicine. For example, the chance of side effects may be greater in people with high blood pressure, heart or blood vessel disease or a history of blood clots. Epoetin may not work properly in people who have bone problems or sickle cell anemia.
Interferons can add to the effects of alcohol and other drugs that slow down the central nervous system, such as antihistamines, cold medicine, allergy medicine, sleep aids, medicine for seizures, tranquilizers, some pain relievers, and muscle relaxants. They may also add to the effects of anesthetics, including those used for dental procedures. Those taking interferons should check with their physicians before taking any of the above.
Some people experience dizziness, unusual fatigue, or become less alert than usual while being treated with these drugs. Because of these possible problems, anyone who takes these drugs should not drive, use machines or do anything else considered dangerous until they have determined how the drugs affect them.
Interferons often cause flu-like symptoms, including fever and chills. The physician who prescribes this medicine may recommend taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) before—and sometimes after—each dose to keep the fever from getting too high. If the physician recommends this, follow instructions carefully.
Like aldesleukin, interferons may temporarily increase the chance of getting infections and lower the number of platelets in the blood, leading to clotting problems. To help prevent these problems, follow the precautions for reducing the risk of infection and bleeding listed for aldesleukin.
People who have certain medical conditions may have problems if they take interferons. For example, the drugs may worsen some medical conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, diabetes, bleeding problems and mental problems. In people who have overactive immune systems, these drugs can even increase the activity of the immune system. People who have shingles or chickenpox, or who have recently been exposed to chickenpox may increase their risk of developing severe problems in other parts of the body if they take interferons. People with a history of seizures or mental problems could at risk if taking interferon.
In teenage women, interferons may cause changes in the menstrual cycle. Young women should discuss this possibility with their physicians. Older people may be more sensitive to the effects of interferons. This may increase the chance of side effects.
These drugs are not known to cause fetal death, birth defects or other problems in humans when taken during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should ask their physicians for the latest information on the safety of taking these drugs during pregnancy.
Women who are breastfeeding their babies may need to stop while taking this medicine. Whether interferons pass into breast milk is not known. Because of the chance of serious side effects to the baby, breast-feeding while taking interferon is discouraged. Check with a physician for advice.
General precautions for all types of immunologic therapy
Regular physician visits are necessary during immunologic therapy treatment. This gives the physician a chance to make sure the medicine is working and to check for unwanted side effects.
Anyone who has had unusual reactions to drugs used in immunologic therapy should let the physician know before resuming the drugs. Any allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or other substances should also be reported.
Nancy Ross-Flanigan, Kausalya Santhanam Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,