Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 141–148 | Cite as

Interleukin-2 in cancer treatment: Disappointing or (still) promising? A review

  • Riks A. Maas
  • Hub F. J. Dullens
  • Willem Den Otter


The central question to discuss in this review is whether the results of interleukin-2 (IL-2) treatment are still disappointing or again promising. Although in the (recent) past application of high doses of systemically applied rIL-2 has led to some success, the overall results are not as one had hoped. Considering these poor results it seems clear that the application of high systemic doses rIL-2 was not a good choice. IL-2 has been used more or less as a chemotherapeutic compound in the highest tolerable dose. This has led to a great number of unwanted toxic side-effects. In addition, these doses mainly stimulated nonspecific lymphokine-activated killer activity through low-affinity IL-2 receptors, which does not lead to systemic immunity. On the other hand, several groups have shown that application of intratumoral low doses of IL-2 can be highly effective against cancer and without toxic side-effects. Significant tumor loads constituting up to 6% of the total body weight of a mouse were eradicated after treatment with low-dose rIL-2 given locally. Furthermore local treatment can lead to eradication of a tumor at a distant site. This type of therapy is effective in many systems namely against different tumor types in mice, hepatocellular carcinoma in guinea-pigs and vulval papilloma and carcinoma and ocular carcinoma in cattle. Low-dose IL-2 is very effective in experimental animals if it is given relatively late after inoculation of the tumor cells. In other words, it seems necessary that some sort of immune reaction has started or is developing before low doses of rIL-2 effectively stimulate it. In fact there is strong evidence that T lymphocytes, both CD4+ and CD8+ cells, are directly involved in the process leading to induction of specific immunity. In our opinion rIL-2 therapy should therefore aim at the stimulation of such (originally weak) specific immune reaction. Under these conditions also systemic immunity can be induced. In conclusion, application of rIL-2 as a modality for cancer treatment is still promising. High priority should be given to a further delineation of the mechanisms involved after local application. The method of giving IL-2 systemically in the highest tolerable dose should be abandoned. Specific stimulation of the immune system by low-dose rIL-2 is a much more promising option.

Key words

Immunotherapy Recombinant interleukin-2 Local application 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riks A. Maas
    • 1
  • Hub F. J. Dullens
    • 1
  • Willem Den Otter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PathologyUniversity Hospital UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands

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