Toxic Side Effects of Targeted Therapies and Immunotherapies Affecting the Skin, Oral Mucosa, Hair, and Nails

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2018 Nov;19(Suppl 1):31-39. doi: 10.1007/s40257-018-0384-3.


Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are associated with a wide range of dermatologic adverse events (dAEs) resulting from common signaling pathways involved in malignant behavior and normal homeostatic functions of the epidermis and dermis. Dermatologic toxicities include damage to the skin, oral mucosa, hair, and nails. Acneiform rash is the most common dAE, observed in 25-85% of patients treated by epidermal growth factor receptor and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitors. BRAF inhibitors mostly induce secondary skin tumors, squamous cell carcinoma and keratoacanthomas, changes in pre-existing pigmented lesions, as well as hand-foot skin reactions and maculopapular hypersensitivity-like rash. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) most frequently induce nonspecific maculopapular rash, but also eczema-like or psoriatic lesions, lichenoid dermatitis, xerosis, and pruritus. Of the oral mucosal toxicities observed with targeted therapies, oral mucositis is the most frequent with mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors, followed by stomatitis associated to multikinase angiogenesis and HER inhibitors, geographic tongue, oral hyperkeratotic lesions, lichenoid reactions, and hyperpigmentation. ICIs typically induce oral lichenoid reactions and xerostomia. Targeted therapies and endocrine therapy also commonly induce alopecia, although this is still underreported with the latter. Finally, targeted therapies may damage nail folds, with paronychia and periungual pyogenic granuloma distinct from chemotherapy-induced lesions. Mild onycholysis, brittle nails, and a slower nail growth rate may also be observed. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies often profoundly diminish patients' quality of life, which impacts treatment outcomes. Close collaboration between dermatologists and oncologists is therefore essential.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Dermatology / methods
  • Drug Eruptions / diagnosis
  • Drug Eruptions / etiology*
  • Drug Eruptions / prevention & control
  • Hair / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Mouth Mucosa / drug effects
  • Nails / drug effects
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents