Early Use of Systemic Corticosteroids in Patients with Advanced NSCLC Treated with Nivolumab

J Thorac Oncol. 2018 Nov;13(11):1771-1775. doi: 10.1016/j.jtho.2018.06.004. Epub 2018 Jun 20.


Introduction: Checkpoint inhibitors augment the immune system's natural surveillance mechanisms and have increasing applications in NSCLC. Immunosuppressive corticosteroids are also frequently used in this population to treat unwanted inflammation. In view of this mechanistic opposition, we investigated the interaction between nivolumab and corticosteroids in patients with advanced NSCLC.

Methods: A retrospective review of the charts of 210 patients with NSCLC who were treated with nivolumab at the Cleveland Clinic was performed. Use of systemic corticosteroids (equivalent to >10 mg of prednisone/d) during nivolumab therapy was associated with the objective outcomes number of nivolumab cycles and overall survival.

Results: In all, 66 patients (31%) received concurrent systemic corticosteroids during nivolumab therapy. The most common indications included sequelae from active or treated brain metastases (27%) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other respiratory disease (21%). For patients with early exposure to steroids (within the first 30 days of nivolumab therapy) (12% [n=25]), the median number of nivolumab cycles was 2, compared with five cycles in patients who were not exposed to corticosteroids (p = 0.002). The median overall survival time for patients who received steroids during the first 30 days was 4.3 months, compared with 11 months for patients who did not receive steroids (hazard ratio for death = 2.30, 95% confidence interval: CI 1.27-4.16, p = 0.006 in multivariate analysis).

Conclusion: Nearly one-third of patients with NSCLC treated with nivolumab were prescribed concurrent corticosteroids during the course of nivolumab therapy. Patients exposed to corticosteroids during the first cycle of nivolumab received fewer total cycles of nivolumab, suggesting decreased clinical benefit, and they had shorter overall survival.

Keywords: NSCLC; corticosteroids; immuno-oncology; nivolumab.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / pharmacology
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nivolumab / pharmacology
  • Nivolumab / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Nivolumab