Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers have answered questions about the incidence and timing of rare but sometimes fatal reactions to the most widely prescribed class of immunotherapies.
Their research, which appeared Sept. 13 in JAMA Oncology, is the largest evaluation of fatal immune checkpoint inhibitor toxicities published to date. They determined that although these severe events can happen, the risks are “within or well below” fatality rates for more common cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and complex cancer surgeries.
When fatal reactions did occur, they tended to happen early after starting treatment, on average 15-40 days, depending upon the type of immune checkpoint inhibitor. Their study further characterized the fatal toxicities and timing of reaction by type of cancer and specific drug.
“These drugs are quite transformative,” said Douglas Johnson, MD, MSCI, senior author of the article. “The benefits outweigh the risks, but patients and doctors should be aware of their toxicities. These side effects can be quite severe, and they are something that we really need to pay attention to.”
The team sorted through more than 16 million adverse drug reaction reports in a World Health Organization (WHO) database searching for those related to immune checkpoint inhibitors.
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