Interferon Alfa (Generic Name)

Other Names: Roferon®-A, Intron® A

About This Drug

Interferon Alfa is used to treat cancer. This drug is given intravenously (IV), by intramuscular injection (IM), under the skin by subcutaneous injection (SQ), or on the skin.

Possible Side Effects

  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Bone marrow depression increases your risk of infection, fatigue, and bleeding.
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, chills, and profuse sweating. These effects usually occur one to two hours after the drug is given and may last up to 18 hours. These symptoms usually decrease with each dose.
  • Mild nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss. You may notice hair thinning. Some patients lose their hair. Your hair usually grows back when treatment is completed.
  • Some people have diarrhea and others have constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Raised, red rash on your arms, legs, back, or chest
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dryness of the mouth and throat
  • Change in taste
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headache
  • 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.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred or double vision
  • Extreme tiredness; fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased mental alertness or decreased ability to concentrate
  • Depression or other mood changes
  • Changes in liver enzymes. Liver enzymes will be checked as needed.
  • Irritation at the injection site

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 to your doctor or nurse about effective methods of birth control.
  • 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.
  • Follow your discharge instructions about treating flu-like symptoms like  fever, chills, and sweating.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medication to help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, headache, muscle and joint pain, nervousness, and/or trouble sleeping.
  • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you are having mood swings or feeling sad or depressed.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of interferon with food. This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication 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 may occur. Tell your nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms during the time you are receiving this drug:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Flushing/itching/rash/hives


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
  • Rash or itching, dizziness or lightheadedness, or palpitations
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than twice in one day
  • Chest pain- If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in vision such as blurred or double vision

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
  • Diarrhea of 4 stools in one day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Pain in arms or legs unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Headache unrelieved by prescribed medication
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Persistent 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 is bothersome
  • Nervousness
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Decreased mental alertness or decreased ability to concentrate
  • Trouble sleeping

Other Instructions

Avoid taking non-steroidal or steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs unless directed by your doctor or nurse.

Revised February 2012

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