Interferon alfa

Interferon alfa has been reported to be a helpful treatment for some people with KS. The best results have been seen when it is used by people with early KS, limited to the skin, with CD4 cell counts above 200 cells/mm3 and no history of opportunistic infections or symptoms such as fever, weight loss or night sweats. In this group, it has been shown to improve KS in about 30 to 50% of people taking it, although this may take two to three weeks to do so.

People who respond to interferon alfa may be recommended to continue taking a maintenance dose for as long as they can tolerate it. Researchers have also examined the combination of AZT (zidovudine, Retrovir) plus interferon. Most trials found that this resulted in tumour regression in more than 40% of cases. KS in people with low CD4 cell counts is more likely to respond to AZT plus interferon alfa than to interferon alfa alone.

Interferon alfa has to be injected into the skin, which is fairly easy for most people to learn to do themselves. It usually causes side-effects of flu-like symptoms. It can also cause neutropenia, a shortage of white blood cells called neutrophils, which fight infections. This can leave the individual vulnerable to bacterial infections. Neutropenia may be avoidable by using the growth factor granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to stimulate white blood cell production.