Melanoma Metastases to the Adrenal Gland Are Highly Resistant to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2021 Aug 4;jnccn20283. doi: 10.6004/jnccn.2020.7800. Online ahead of print.


Background: Adrenal gland metastases (AGMs) are common in advanced-stage melanoma, occurring in up to 50% of patients. The introduction of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) has markedly altered the outcome of patients with melanoma. However, despite significant successes, anecdotal evidence has suggested that treatment responses in AGMs are significantly lower than in other metastatic sites. We sought to investigate whether having an AGM is associated with altered outcomes and whether ICI responses are dampened in the adrenal glands.

Patients and methods: We retrospectively compared ICI responses and overall survival (OS) in 68 patients with melanoma who were diagnosed with an AGM and a control group of 100 patients without AGMs at a single institution. Response was determined using RECIST 1.1. OS was calculated from time of ICI initiation, anti-PD-1 initiation, initial melanoma diagnosis, and stage IV disease diagnosis. Tumor-infiltrating immune cells were characterized in 9 resected AGMs using immunohistochemical analysis.

Results: Response rates of AGMs were significantly lower compared with other metastatic sites in patients with AGMs (16% vs 22%) and compared with those without AGMs (55%). Patients with AGMs also had significantly lower median OS compared with those without AGMs (3.1 years vs not reached, respectively). We further observed that despite this, AGMs exhibited high levels of tumor-infiltrating immune cells.

Conclusions: In this cohort of patients with melanoma, those diagnosed with an AGM had lower ICI response rates and OS. These results suggest that tissue-specific microenvironments of AGMs present unique challenges that may require novel, adrenal gland-directed therapies or surgical resection.