Early Use of High-Dose Glucocorticoid for the Management of irAE Is Associated with Poorer Survival in Patients with Advanced Melanoma Treated with Anti-PD-1 Monotherapy

Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Nov 1;27(21):5993-6000. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-21-1283. Epub 2021 Aug 10.


Purpose: Programmed cell death receptor-1 (PD-1) inhibitors are frontline therapy in advanced melanoma. Severe immune-related adverse effects (irAEs) often require immunosuppressive treatment with glucocorticoids (GCCs), but GCC use and its correlation with patient survival outcomes during anti-PD-1 monotherapy remains unclear.

Experimental design: In this multicenter retrospective analysis, patients treated with anti-PD-1 monotherapy between 2009 and 2019 and detailed GCC use, data were identified from five independent cohorts, with median follow-up time of 206 weeks. IrAEs were tracked from the initiation of anti-PD-1 until disease progression, initiation of a new therapy, or last follow-up. Correlations between irAEs, GCC use, and survival outcomes were analyzed.

Results: Of the entire cohort of 947 patients, 509 (54%) developed irAEs. In the MGH cohort [irAE(+) n = 90], early-onset irAE (within 8 weeks of anti-PD-1 initiation) with high-dose GCC use (≥60-mg prednisone equivalent once a day) was independently associated with poorer post-irAE PFS/OS (progression-free survival/overall survival) [post-irAE PFS: HR, 5.37; 95% confidence interval (CI), 2.10-13.70; P < 0.001; post-irAE OS: HR, 5.95; 95% CI, 2.20-16.09; P < 0.001] compared with irAEs without early high-dose GCC use. These findings were validated in the combined validation cohort [irAE(+) n = 419, post-irAE PFS: HR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.04-2.76; P = 0.04; post-irAE OS: HR, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.15-3.39; P = 0.01]. Similar findings were also observed in the 26-week landmark analysis for post-irAE-PFS but not for post-irAE-OS. A sensitivity analysis using accumulated GCC exposure as the measurement achieved similar results.

Conclusions: Early high-dose GCC use was associated with poorer PFS and OS after irAE onset. Judicious use of GCC early during anti-PD-1 monotherapy should be considered. Further prospective randomized control clinical trials designed to explore alternative irAE management options are warranted.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Correlation of Data
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / prevention & control
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / mortality*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors