Toxicities associated with immune checkpoint inhibitors: a systematic study

Xiangyi Kong, Li Chen, Zhaohui Su, Ryan J. Sullivan, Steven M. Blum, Zhihong Qi, Yulu Liu, Yujia Huo, Yi Fang, Lin Zhang, Jidong Gao, Jing Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Available evidence shows that the incidence of toxicities associated with cancer immunotherapy, such as programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) and programmed cell death 1 ligand 1 (PD-L1)-related toxicities, is estimated to be between 0.3 and 1.3%. OBJECTIVE: This systematic review aimed to investigate cancer patients' susceptibility to toxicities associated with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors and establish a clinically relevant landscape of side effects of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. DATA SOURCES: Relevant publications from PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) between 2014 and 2019. STUDY ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA, PARTICIPANTS, AND INTERVENTIONS: We searched randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting treatment-related toxicities associated with PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors in the treatment of cancers. The primary endpoint was to assess the difference in the incidences of toxicities between cancer patients who did and did not receive PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. A total of 29 RCTs, incorporating 8576 patients, met the eligibility criteria. STUDY APPRAISAL AND SYNTHESIS METHODS: We calculated the pooled relative risks and corresponding 95% CIs using a random-effects model and assessed the heterogeneity between different groups. The subgroup analyses were conducted based on cancer type, toxicity grade (severity), system and organ, treatment regimens in the intervention arm and the control arm, PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitor drug type, and cancer type. RESULTS: A total of 11 categories (e.g. endocrine toxicity), and 39 toxicity types (e.g. hyperthyroidism) were identified. For toxicities at any grade, those treated with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors were at lower risks for gastrointestinal toxicity, hematologic toxicity, and treatment event leading to discontinuation; and were at higher risks for respiratory toxicity (all P <0.05). Those treated with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors were at lower risks for fatigue, asthenia, and peripheral edema and were at higher risks for pyrexia, cough, dyspnea, pneumonitis, and pruritus. LIMITATIONS: The present research is a meta-analysis at the study level rather than at the patient level; insights on risk factors associated with the development of toxicities cannot be found in our study. There was a possible overlap in Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE) definitions which prevents understanding the true rates of specific toxicities. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS OF KEY FINDINGS: For most toxicity types based on system and organ, the incidence proportions for patients in the intervention arm were lower than those in the control arm, which suggested the general safety of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors against conventional chemotherapy and cytotoxic t-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA-4) inhibitors. Future research should focus on taking effective targeted measures to decrease the risks of different toxicities for different patient populations. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION NUMBER: We registered the research protocol with PROSPERO (registration number CRD42019135113).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1753-1768
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Surgery
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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