The psychological and psychiatric effects of rIL-2 therapy: A controlled clinical trial

Leslie Gresson Walker*, Mary Birnie Walker, Stephen Darrell Heys, Jane Lolley, Keith Wesnes, Oleg Eremin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) may cause pyschological and psychiatric problems, although the effects of rIL-2 on its own have not been well documented. To evaluate these effects, 17 patients with advanced colorectal cancer took part in a randomised, parallel group study of rIL-2 with chemotherapy (5-fluorouracil and leucovorin) versus chemotherapy alone. Patients were assessed regularly by means of various psychometric tests including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Mood Rating Scale, the Mini-Mental State Examination, the Digit Symbol Substitution Test, the Trail-Making Test and the Benton Revised Visual Retention Test. Rigorous discontinuation criteria were applied to ensure that the effect of time-related variables did not influence the results. Compared with patients who were given chemotherapy alone, patients receiving immunochemotherapy reported reduced energy, impaired confidence, higher depressed mood and more confusion. Immunochemotherapy was rated as more distressing than chemotherapy alone and patients reported a greater incidence of appetite impairment, weight loss, poor concentration and fever. Cognitive assessments indicated that brain dysfunction can be caused by rIL-2. Compared with the control group, patients receiving immunochemotherapy showed significant impairment on Trail Making Test B and the Digit Symbol Substitution Test. One patient developed repeated transient psychotic episodes associated with rIL-2 infusions and another regularly became confused. These effects were not due to sleep deprivation or pyrexia. Treatment with rIL-2 should not be discarded on psychosocial grounds, although in each case the psychological morbidity and adverse effects on quality of life need to be balanced carefully against potential therapeutic benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-301
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 1998


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