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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Massey becomes the only medical provider in Richmond to offer Interleukin-2 therapy

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Giao Phan, M.D.

VCU Massey Cancer Center is now offering FDA-approved Interleukin-2 (IL-2) therapy for metastatic melanoma and metastatic renal cell carcinoma, making Massey the only medical provider in the Richmond area to offer this service. IL-2 treatment is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize and kill tumor cells.

IL-2 is a type of cytokine signaling molecule that is produced by some immune cells to regulate the activities of other immune cells. IL-2 therapy uses a synthetic type of IL-2, a drug known by the name aldesleukin or Proleukin, to give the immune system a boost to fight cancer cells.

IL-2 therapy has the potential to cause durable anti-tumor responses that can last years or even decades. Despite this durability, IL-2 therapy is not commonly used due to its potentially severe side effects, which require specially trained and experienced physicians and nurses to administer the drug, as it has a narrow therapeutic window. But when administered correctly, IL-2 can be safe and is capable of causing long-term cancer regression in some patients with metastatic melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.

Massey surgical oncologist and cancer researcher Giao Q. Phan, M.D., has treated patients with this therapy since her immunotherapy fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, in 1999 and is excited to be offering it at Massey.

 “IL-2 has a bad reputation because it can cause a lot of side effects if not managed correctly,” says Dr. Phan, who is also a member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey and an associate professor in the VCU Department of Surgery’s Division of Surgical Oncology. “But if the physicians administering it are experienced and know how to address the side effects, it is a safe drug.  The patients rebound quickly after the treatment is over. It is also a short treatment—not meant to be continual like a lot of other treatment options.”

Since Dr. Phan arrived at Massey in 2014, Richmond-area patients no longer have to travel more than an hour to an experienced IL-2 center. Now local patients can be screened in the outpatient setting to see if they are eligible to receive IL-2 treatment and if IL-2 treatment would be appropriate for them. If IL-2 therapy is recommended, it is given in an inpatient setting requiring approximately five days of hospitalization. While there are many good treatment choices available for melanoma and renal cell cancer patients, IL-2 therapy is a valid option that can be curative.

To learn more about IL-2 therapy, please contact Dr. Phan at (804) 828-9325 or email

Written by: Melissa Mitchell

Posted on: May 11, 2015

Category: Clinical news

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