The Role of Immunotherapy in the Treatment of Anal Cancer and Future Strategies

Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2022 Aug;23(8):1073-1085. doi: 10.1007/s11864-022-00939-3. Epub 2022 Jun 6.


Despite being markedly sensitive to chemoradiotherapy, patients with locally advanced (T3-4 and/or node-positive) squamous cell carcinoma of the anal canal (SCCA) still present high rates of disease recurrence, which is characterized by meaningful morbidity and mortality. Abdominoperineal resection as salvage surgery may be considered for patients with local recurrence, but with an important negative impact in the quality of life. Systemic therapy of advanced SCCA is an unmet clinical need. Palliative chemotherapy for the management of unresectable or metastatic disease yields approximately 60% of objective response rate; however, it still portends a grim prognosis. Based on the recently published InterAACT trial, carboplatin plus paclitaxel has become the standard of care of advanced disease; modified DCF (docetaxel, cisplatin, and 5-fluorouracil) may also be considered for fit patients amenable to intensive therapy. There are no FDA-approved therapies for the treatment of chemorefractory patients. Nevertheless, both nivolumab and pembrolizumab may be considered for these patients with promising results, regardless of PD-L1 expression or other predictive biomarkers. It is estimated that approximately 1 out of 5 patients with SCCA will derive large benefit from PD-1 inhibitors, which may produce considerable durations of response. Ongoing clinical trials exploring the combination of chemotherapy plus immune checkpoint inhibitors in the first-line therapy, combination of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 plus anti-CTLA-4, and emerging immunotherapeutic approaches, such as adoptive T cell therapies, are eagerly awaited and may bring practice-changing results in the next few years for the treatment of this challenging disease.

Keywords: Anal canal; Anal cancer; Immunotherapy; SCCA; Squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Anus Neoplasms* / therapy
  • B7-H1 Antigen*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Paclitaxel / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Paclitaxel

Supplementary concepts

  • Anal Canal Carcinoma