Pathologic findings associated with interleukin-2-Based immunotherapy for cancer: A postmortem study of 19 patients

Amy H. Kragel, William D. Travis, Laurie Feinberg, Stefania Pittaluga, Liliane M. Striker, William C. Roberts, Michael T. Lotze, James J. Yang, Steven A. Rosenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of interleukin-2 (IL-2), either alone or in combination with lymphokine-activated killer cells, tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, or other immunotherapeutic agents has added a new list of alternatives to conventional antineoplastic regimens. Little information is available about the pathologic changes occurring in patients treated with these agents. In this study, we reviewed the necropsy materials from 19 patients, 12 men and 7 women, with a variety of malignancies including melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, gastrointestinal and pulmonary adenocarcinoma, and metastatic gastrinoma, who died after receiving IL-2-based immunotherapy. Death occurred at intervals ranging from less than 1 hour to 143 days following the last dose of therapy. All patients dying at or less than 43 days following cessation of therapy had lymphoid infiltrates of varying intensity in residual tumor. At necropsy, the major cause of death unrelated to the presence of metastatic tumor was bacterial sepsis. In addition, we found evidence of significant cardiac and pulmonary toxicity: two patients with acute myocardial infarction, one with and one without significant coronary artery disease, two cases of unexplained lymphocytic myocarditis, and one case of fatal pulmonary capillary plugging following an infusion of lymphokine-activated killer cells. Thus, not unlike other forms of therapy for cancer, IL-2-based immunotherapy does not appear to be without significant toxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-502
Number of pages10
JournalHuman pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1990


  • acute myocardial infarction
  • diffuse alveolar damage
  • lymphoid infiltrate
  • lymphokine activated killer cells
  • myocarditis
  • thyroiditis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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