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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Interleukin-2 therapy

Interleukin-2 (IL-2) treatment is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize and kill tumor cells. Massey is the only medical provider in the Richmond area to offer this therapy for metastatic melanoma and metastatic renal cell carcinoma. It is capable of causing long-term cancer regression in some patients and requires less than a week of hospitalization with patients rebounding quickly.

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 kind of IL-2 to give the immune system a boost to fight cancer cells. It has the potential to cause durable anti-tumor responses that can last years or even decades.

Despite its 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. It is also a short treatment—not meant to be continual like a lot of other treatment options.

Richmond-area patients no longer have to travel more than an hour to an experienced IL-2 center. 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. 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. Giao Q. Phan at (804) 828-9325 or

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