Identifying and managing the adverse effects of immune checkpoint blockade
Immunotherapy has revolutionized the field of oncology. By inhibiting the cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein (CTLA-4) and programmed death-1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint pathways, multiple studies have demonstrated greatly improved survival in locally advanced and metastatic cancers including melanoma, renal, lung, gastric, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Trials in other malignancies are ongoing, and undoubtedly the number of drugs in this space will grow beyond the six currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, by altering the immune response to fight cancer, a new class of side effects has emerged known as immune-related adverse events (irAEs). These adverse events are due to overactivation of the immune system in almost any organ of the body, and can occur at any point along a patient’s treatment course. irAEs such as endocrinopathies (thyroiditis), colitis, and pneumonitis may occur more commonly. However, other organs such as the liver, heart, or brain may also be affected by immune overactivation and any of these side effects may become life threatening. This review presents an approach to promptly recognize and manage these toxicities, to hopefully minimize morbidity and mortality from irAEs.