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Indian J Cancer. 2019 Nov;56(Supplement):S10-S22. doi: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_448_19.

Adverse effects of immuno-oncology drugs-Awareness, diagnosis, and management: A literature review of immune-mediated adverse events.

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Department of Medical Oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, India.


Immuno-oncology (IO) approaches such as cytokine therapy, immune-checkpoint blockers (ICBs), cancer vaccines, and cell-based therapies have revolutionized cancer treatment. ICBs provide better response-to-toxicity profile among various IO approaches; however, they can cause dysregulation of host immune system resulting in immune-mediated adverse events (imAEs). The skin and gastrointestinal system are most commonly affected. Although reversible, imAEs may cause life-threatening conditions if untreated. Risk assessment and appropriate patient selection before treatment initiation may prevent most imAEs. Key factors in effectively managing imAEs include baseline clinical evaluation, appropriate diagnostic tests, severity grading, timely decision on discontinuation or reintroduction of ICB treatment, and intervention with immunosuppressive and/or immunomodulatory agents. Patient and healthcare provider awareness is critical for identifying and managing lower grade imAEs. Immediate reporting is important for successfully managing and preventing or worsening of imAEs. Pretreatment sensitization of patients should address barriers to reporting such as fear of ICB discontinuation, ignorance of symptoms, financial constraints, and self-medication. Physicians should rely on clinical presentation and diagnostic work-up (including imaging) to accurately identify, characterize, and differentiate imAEs from metastasis. Treatment-related new symptoms should be dealt with a high level of suspicion. Corticosteroids are initiated if symptoms do not resolve within a week from onset and tapered over a month to avoid rebound of symptoms. ICB therapy should be permanently discontinued in most cases of grade 3-4 imAEs. A multidisciplinary approach involving oncologists, oncosurgeons, primary care physicians, and nurses is necessary in effectively managing imAEs and facilitating better clinical outcomes.


CTLA-4; PD-1; PD-L1; immune checkpoint blockers; immune-mediated adverse events

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