CTLA-4 blockade with monoclonal antibodies in patients with metastatic cancer: surgical issues

Ann Surg Oncol. 2008 Nov;15(11):3014-21. doi: 10.1245/s10434-008-0104-y. Epub 2008 Aug 21.


Background: CTLA-4 (cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4) is a modulatory receptor on T cells involved in downregulating T cell activation. In animal models, CTLA-4 blockade abrogates tolerance to "self" antigens, resulting in the augmentation of antitumor immunity and induction of autoimmunity. CTLA-4 blockade by means of monoclonal antibodies (ipilimumab and tremelimumab) has been evaluated in multiple clinical trials in patients with metastatic cancer, mainly those with melanoma and renal cell cancer.

Methods: We examine available literature and ongoing clinical trials with ipilimumab and tremelimumab and review our own experience with patients treated with CTLA-4 blockade, with an emphasis on issues of direct relevance to surgical oncologists.

Results: CTLA-4 blockade can cause durable tumor regression in patients with metastatic melanoma and other solid tumors. Grade III/IV autoimmune toxicity has been frequently encountered in clinical trials and includes enterocolitis, dermatitis, hypophysitis, uveitis, and hepatitis. Enterocolitis is the most common immune-related adverse event and may cause severe diarrhea requiring intravenous hydration, high-dose corticosteroids, and blockade of tumor necrosis factor alpha with infliximab. Most patients respond to medical treatment, but up to 12% with grade III/IV enterocolitis develop perforation or bleeding that requires colectomy.

Conclusions: As more patients are enrolled onto clinical trials involving ipilimumab and tremelimumab, an increasing number of surgeons may be involved in the care of these patients who develop treatment-related complications. In this report, we review the rationale for CTLA-4 blockade and review selected clinical studies published so far with ipilimumab and tremelimumab. We offer guidelines on the management of patients who develop enterocolitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / adverse effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antigens, CD / immunology*
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Enterocolitis / chemically induced
  • Enterocolitis / drug therapy
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Ipilimumab
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antigens, CD
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • CTLA4 protein, human
  • Ipilimumab
  • tremelimumab