Severe and refractory gastrointestinal toxicity due to immune checkpoint inhibitors: clinical experience in a tertiary referral hospital

Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2023 Oct;115(10):567-573. doi: 10.17235/reed.2023.9436/2022.


Introduction: immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) are increasingly used to treat several types of cancer. These drugs lead to a wide range of toxicities. Immune-related gastrointestinal adverse events are common and potentially severe. In this manuscript, we recount the real clinical experience in a tertiary center.

Methods: a retrospective and observational study was conducted in adult patients under ICI treatment. Included patients had been referred to the Gastrointestinal Service of Hospital Universitario Vall d'Hebron for evaluation of severe toxicities, from January 2017 to January 2020, for whom the clinical, epidemiological and evolutive data were collected.

Results: a total of 18 patients were included. Fifty-five percent received anti-programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1)/anti-programmed death-ligand 1 (anti PD-L1), 11 % received anti-cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and 33 % received both treatments. The toxicities were manifested as enterocolitis, microscopic colitis and gastritis. Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was performed in seven patients; all were proved to have histological changes on duodenum biopsies. Treatment was stopped in all patients and steroids were initiated. Sixty-six per cent achieved clinical remission with steroids. Five patients received anti-TNF treatment (infliximab). Only one of the five had responded. Two anti-TNF refractory patients received ustekinumab, with an appropriate clinical response. One patient received apheresis granulocyte as concomitant treatment. A patient with a steroid-dependent course started vedolizumab. Three patients had other immune-related adverse events.

Conclusion: gastrointestinal immune-related adverse events are acquiring a higher profile in daily practice and gastroenterologists play an even greater role in the management of these patients.