Case reports and preclinical data suggest radiotherapy and immunotherapy may synergize to generate "abscopal" responses outside the radiation field. This phenomenon remains relatively unexplored, prompting our systematic evaluation of metastatic melanoma patients treated with the CTLA-4 inhibitor ipilimumab and palliative radiation therapy. We evaluated 47 consecutive metastatic melanoma patients treated with ipilimumab and 65 courses of radiation. Responses of index lesions outside the radiation field were compared before and after radiotherapy, and parameters associated with favorable response were assessed. Median survival was 28 months, with an estimated 20% 5-y survival. Index lesions shrank in 7 instances prior to radiation therapy (11%), compared with 16 instances (25%) after radiation therapy; in 11 of the latter instances (69%), the index lesion had been increasing in size prior to radiotherapy (P = 0.03). In 68% of cases, radiotherapy was associated with an improved rate of index lesion response (P = 0.006). Radiation fraction size ≤ 3 Gy was the only parameter identified associated with favorable index lesion response (P = 0.014). Our systematic review of melanoma patients treated with radiotherapy and ipilimumab suggests that a subset of patients may have more favorable out-of-field responses following treatment with radiation. Interestingly, we found that multiple fraction radiation regimens were associated with a more favorable response. These results are encouraging regarding potential synergies between radiation and immunotherapy, but suggest that attention and even prospective testing of radiation parameters critical to producing abscopal effects in human patients would be of value.
Keywords: abscopal effect; immunotherapy; ipilimumab; melanoma; radiation therapy.