A study published in The Oncologist recently shows that patients with pre-existing autoimmune disorders are at an increased risk of developing immune-related side effects when treated with immunotherapy. This is regardless of tumour type, gender and general wellbeing. However, these patients can still be treated with immunotherapy.
The study included 751 patients with four different advanced cancers; non-small cell lung cancer (65.5%), melanoma (21.2%), kidney cancer (12.5%), and others (0.8%). 85 patients (11.3%) had pre-existing autoimmune disorders, of which 17.6% were clinically active.
All patients had been treated with immunotherapy; nivolumab, pembrolizumab or ipilimumab. In the overall patient population, just over 2 in 5 patients had an immune-related side effect, nearly 10% of which were serious or life-threatening. For patients with an autoimmune disorder, this rose to nearly two thirds of patients, of which nearly 10% were serious or life-threatening. Most patients with a pre-existing autoimmune disorders and an immune-related side effect also experienced a flare of their disease.
In summary, compared with patients who didn’t have a pre-existing autoimmune disorder, immune-related side effects were more common in those with an autoimmune disorder. Women appeared to have more immune-related side effects than men, but this finding needs further investigation.