Hypersensitivity reactions to chemotherapy: outcomes and safety of rapid desensitization in 413 cases

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008 Sep;122(3):574-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2008.02.044. Epub 2008 May 27.


Background: Hypersensitivity reactions (HSRs) to chemotherapeutic drugs, including mAbs, often require that the provoking medication be discontinued, thus raising a dilemma for the caregiver: further use could precipitate a severe, even fatal, allergic reaction on re-exposure, but alternative drugs might be poorly tolerated or much less effective compared with the preferred agent.

Objective: We have developed a standardized rapid desensitization protocol for achieving temporary tolerization to drug allergens. In this study we evaluate the safety and efficacy of this protocol.

Methods: Ninety-eight patients who had HSRs in response to treatment with carboplatin, cisplatin, oxaliplatin, paclitaxel, liposomal doxorubicin, doxorubicin, or rituximab received rapid desensitization to these agents. A standardized 12-step protocol was used, with treatment given intravenously or intraperitoneally. Initial desensitizations occurred in the medical intensive care unit, whereas most subsequent infusions took place in an outpatient setting. Safety and efficacy of the protocol were assessed by review of treatment records.

Results: Of the 413 desensitizations performed, 94% induced mild or no reactions. No life-threatening HSRs or deaths occurred during the procedure, and all patients received their full target dose. Most reactions occurred during the first desensitization. Reactions were most commonly reported at the last step of the protocol. Desensitizations through the intravenous and intraperitoneal routes were equally effective.

Conclusions: Our standardized 12-step protocol for rapid drug desensitization is safe and effective and has been adopted as the standard of care at our institutions in treating patients with HSRs to chemotherapeutic drugs, including mAbs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / adverse effects
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / methods*
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin Tests
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents