Immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat cutaneous malignancies

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Nov;83(5):1239-1253. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2020.03.131. Epub 2020 May 24.


As the incidence of cutaneous malignancies continues to rise and their treatment with immunotherapy expands, dermatologists and their patients are more likely to encounter immune checkpoint inhibitors. While the blockade of immune checkpoint target proteins (cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein-4, programmed cell death-1, and programmed cell death ligand-1) generates an antitumor response in a substantial fraction of patients, there is a critical need for reliable predictive biomarkers and approaches to address refractory disease. The first article of this Continuing Medical Education series reviews the indications, efficacy, safety profile, and evidence supporting checkpoint inhibition as therapeutics for metastatic melanoma, cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma. Pivotal studies resulting in the approval of ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, nivolumab, cemiplimab, and avelumab by regulatory agencies for various cutaneous malignancies, as well as ongoing clinical research trials, are discussed.

Keywords: CTLA-4 inhibitor; Kaposi sarcoma; Merkel cell carcinoma; PD-1 inhibitor; PD-L1 inhibitor; basal cell carcinoma; checkpoint inhibitor; cutaneous lymphomas; cutaneous malignancies; cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma; immunotherapy; melanoma; skin cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors