Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that increases the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to help the immune system better find and kill cancer cells. One type of immunotherapy is called an immune checkpoint inhibitor. An immune checkpoint is a protein that can stop the body’s immune system from responding to cancer cells. These proteins include PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4. Immune checkpoint inhibitors work by targeting and blocking these proteins, which then allows the immune system to find and attack cancer cells. 

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are used to treat many types of cancer, including lung cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer, and kidney cancer.

Every cancer treatment can cause side effects, including immune checkpoint inhibitors. Side effects can range from mild to severe. In this podcast, Tian Zhang, MD, and Afreen Shariff, MD, MBBS, discuss what people with cancer should know about common side effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors and what to watch for with these side effects. People should always talk with their doctor about possible side effects and symptoms based on their individual cancer treatment plan, including how they will be monitored and managed by their cancer care team.

  • What about rare side effects from the treatment, such as kidney or neurologic problems? [8:37]

  • Why is it important for patients to talk with their doctor about immunotherapy side effects? [9:21]

Dr. Zhang is an associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and is a medical oncologist at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zhang is also a Cancer.Net Specialty Editor for Genitourinary Cancer. Dr. Shariff is an endocrinologist, assistant professor of medicine, and associate director at the Center of Cancer Immunotherapy at Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina.

Disclosure information for Dr. Zhang can be found in her individual biography linked to above. Dr. Shariff has no relationships to disclose.

ASCO has published recommendations on grading and managing side effects related to treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors and CAR T-cell therapy. Note that these links take you to a different ASCO website.

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