Interferon for melanoma

Author: Anoma Ranaweera, Medical Writer, Auckland, New Zealand. Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, December 2015.

What is interferon?

The interferons are a family of biological proteins (cytokines) produced by a variety of cells. They have immunomodulatory and antiproliferative effects on tumour cells and can be broadly divided into type I (interferon-alpha and beta) and type II (interferon-gamma).

In melanoma, interferon-alpha has shown most promise and has been the most extensively evaluated for advanced disease (including metastatic melanoma), alone and in combinations.

Three types of interferon-alpha are commercially available: interferon alfa-2a (Roferon®-A, Hoffmann-La Roche, New Jersey [NJ], USA), interferon alfa-2b (Intron A®; Schering-Plough Corporation, Madison NJ, USA), and peginterferon alfa-2b (Sylatron®; Schering-Plough Corporation, Madison NJ, USA); each differs minimally in their amino-acid sequence.

Both interferon alfa-2a and interferon alfa-2b are available in New Zealand for melanoma treatment; peginterferon alfa-2b was approved by the FDA in USA for the adjuvant treatment of melanoma in 2011, but is not available in New Zealand.

How interferon works

How is interferon administered?

Interferon alfa-2a (Roferon®-A)

Interferon alfa-2b (Intron® A)

Peg-interferon alfa-2b (Sylatron®)

Link to key clinical-trial evidence about interferons ...

What are the side effects of treatment with interferon?

In clinical trials, the most common side effects (greater than or equal to 20%) in patients receiving interferons were:

Peg-interferon alfa-2b can cause serious side effects including worsening of pre-existing conditions such as:

Peginterferon alfa-2b should be discontinued permanently in patients with persistently severe or worsening signs or symptoms of depression, psychosis, or encephalopathy.

Drug interactions with interferon

Use of interferon in special patient populations

Use in pregnancy (pregnancy category B3)

Use in nursing mothers

Paediatric use

Hepatic impairment

Renal impairment

Geriatric use

New Zealand approved datasheets are the official source of information for these prescription medicines, including approved uses and risk information. Check the individual New Zealand datasheet on the Medsafe website.

Related information

Email Newsletter

Would you like to receive our dermatology updates by email?


Submit your images

We're seeking high-quality photos of skin diseases.  


Machine diagnosis

Watch DermNet's proposal to create a 'Skin Disease Image Recognition Tool' - winner of the 2017 'Clinicians' Challenge Active Award' by the NZ Ministry of Health and HiNZ.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
DermNet NZ Newsletter