Cancer Home > Ontak Uses

The approved use for Ontak includes treating cutaneous T-cell lymphoma that has not improved or has returned after other treatments. However, there are also off-label reasons a healthcare provider might prescribe this drug, such as treating other types of T-cell lymphoma or chronic lymphoid leukemia. Ontak works by binding to certain receptors on the T-cells and releasing diphtheria toxin, which causes the cancer cells to die.

What Is Ontak Used For?

Ontak® (denileukin diftitox) is a prescription medication approved to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma that has not improved or has come back after other treatment. It is only used when a certain protein, known as CD25, is present on a receptor known as the interleukin-2, or IL-2, receptor found on the surface of the cancer cells. Your healthcare provider may take a biopsy of your tumor cells to test for this protein before starting treatment.

What Is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer that occurs when cells in the lymphatic system (part of the body's immune system) become abnormal and grow out of control. There are two main types of lymphoma -- Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma includes a large, diverse group of lymphomas that are categorized based on the type of lymphocyte (a kind of white blood cell) affected. The two main types of lymphocytes are B-cells and T-cells. The categories are also based on whether the cancer is indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing). Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the type of lymphoma Ontak is approved to treat, is an indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that usually begins in T-cells found in the skin.
Several different lymphomas fall under the broad category of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the most common being mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome. Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma usually first appears as dry, red, scaly, and itchy patches of skin. It may go unrecognized because these symptoms mirror those of other common skin problems, such as eczema or psoriasis. As the condition progresses, however, plaques (raised red patches) and tumors may develop on the skin. The lymph nodes may also become swollen.
Early in the course of the disease, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma may be treated with topical medications, such as chemotherapy skin creams, ultraviolet light, or electron beam radiation. More advanced stages may require chemotherapy treatment taken by mouth or injected into the blood.
Ontak is one example of an injectable chemotherapy medicine, and is reserved for use when the cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is not improving or has come back.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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