, Volume 57, Issue 7, pp 931-950,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 Feb 2008

Local therapy of cancer with free IL-2


This is a position paper about the therapeutic effects of locally applied free IL-2 in the treatment of cancer. Local therapy: IL-2 therapy of cancer was originally introduced as a systemic therapy. This therapy led to about 20% objective responses. Systemic therapy however was very toxic due to the vascular leakage syndrome. Nevertheless, this treatment was a break-through in cancer immunotherapy and stimulated some interesting questions: Supposing that the mechanism of IL-2 treatment is both proliferation and tumoricidal activity of the tumor infiltrating cells, then locally applied IL-2 should result in a much higher local IL-2 concentration than systemic IL-2 application. Consequently a greater beneficial effect could be expected after local IL-2 application (peritumoral = juxtatumoral, intratumoral, intra-arterial, intracavitary, or intratracheal = inhalation). Free IL-2: Many groups have tried to prepare a more effective IL-2 formulation than free IL-2. Examples are slow release systems, insertion of the IL-2 gene into a tumor cell causing prolonged IL-2 release. However, logistically free IL-2 is much easier to apply; hence we concentrated in this review and in most of our experiments on the use of free IL-2. Local therapy with free IL-2 may be effective against transplanted tumors in experimental animals, and against various spontaneous carcinomas, sarcomas, and melanoma in veterinary and human cancer patients. It may induce rejection of very large, metastasized tumor loads, for instance advanced clinical tumors. The effects of even a single IL-2 application may be impressive. Not each tumor or tumor type is sensitive to local IL-2 application. For instance transplanted EL4 lymphoma or TLX9 lymphoma were not sensitive in our hands. Also the extent of sensitivity differs: In Bovine Ocular Squamous Cell Carcinoma (BOSCC) often a complete regression is obtained, whereas with the Bovine Vulval Papilloma and Carcinoma Complex (BVPCC) mainly stable disease is attained. Analysis of the results of local IL-2 therapy in 288 cases of cancer in human patients shows that there were 27% Complete Regressions (CR), 23% Partial Regressions (PR), 18% Stable Disease (SD), and 32% Progressive Disease (PD). In all tumors analyzed, local IL-2 therapy was more effective than systemic IL-2 treatment. Intratumoral IL-2 applications are more effective than peritumoral application or application at a distant site. Tumor regression induced by intratumoral IL-2 application may be a fast process (requiring about a week) in the case of a highly vascular tumor since IL-2 induces vascular leakage/edema and consequently massive tumor necrosis. The latter then stimulates an immune response. In less vascular tumors or less vascular tumor sites, regression may require 9–20 months; this regression is mainly caused by a cytotoxic leukocyte reaction. Hence the disadvantageous vascular leakage syndrome complicating systemic treatment is however advantageous in local treatment, since local edema may initiate tumor necrosis. Thus the therapeutic effect of local IL-2 treatment is not primarily based on tumor immunity, but tumor immunity seems to be useful as a secondary component of the IL-2 induced local processes. If local IL-2 is combined with surgery, radiotherapy or local chemotherapy the therapeutic effect is usually greater than with either therapy alone. Hence local free IL-2 application can be recommended as an addition to standard treatment protocols. Local treatment with free IL-2 is straightforward and can readily be applied even during surgical interventions. Local IL-2 treatment is usually without serious side effects and besides minor complaints it is generally well supported. Only small quantities of IL-2 are required. Hence the therapy is relatively cheap. A single IL-2 application of 4.5 million U IL-2 costs about 70 Euros. Thus combined local treatment may offer an alternative in those circumstances when more expensive forms of treatment are not available, for instance in resource poor countries.