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Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors and Their Benefits for Patients With Cancer


Immune checkpoint inhibitors can benefit patients in many ways, but especially with quality of life as the drugs are “very well-tolerated,” an expert said.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) are an important form of immunotherapy for patients with cancer, especially because they are “very well tolerated” and can help maintain quality of life, according to an expert.

The American Cancer Society states that ICIs are monoclonal antibodies that are designed to target certain proteins, called checkpoints. However, unlike other drugs that attack cancer cells directly, ICIs help the immune system effectively find and destroy cancer cells in the body.

ICIs help the body “empower (the) immune system to fight cancer,” as Patricia Moreno, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor for the department of public health sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said during an interview with CURE®.

Certain ICIs are used to target specific proteins, such as PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors. According to the American Cancer Society, common PD-1 inhibitors include Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Opdivo (nivolumab), and common PD-L1 inhibitors include Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and Imfinzi (durvalumab).

“If you’re on an immune checkpoint inhibitor, always keep the lines of communication open with your care team, make sure that you know how to get in touch with them if a complication comes up,” added Moreno.

In addition to patients communicating symptoms and complications to care teams, Moreno also emphasized the importance of patients asking their doctors about potential clinical trial opportunities, which could be a “good fit” based on the patient’s priorities, values and goals for treatment.


Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a class of immunotherapy. And essentially, it’s helping empower your immune system to fight cancer. So, immune checkpoint inhibitors target specific proteins, which then allows your immune system to identify and appropriately kill cancer cells in your body.

In general, immune checkpoint inhibitors are very well-tolerated. And that’s great because we are very interested in not only treating cancer but also keeping people living as well as possible and improving their quality of life or maintaining their quality of life. We do know that there are symptoms that arise with immune checkpoint inhibitors, and they tend to look different than our other cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation. And sometimes rarely, there are serious complications that can come up on immune checkpoint inhibitors; things that can be related to the overactivation of the immune system and sort of unintended effects of the immune checkpoint inhibitor not just on the cancer but on other organs of the body.

My advice for patients would be to talk to their care team to find out if there is an option for immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment for your cancer, there may be opportunities for clinical trial participation, which is always a really great option. And you should talk to your care team about whether that’s a good fit for you based, again, on your priorities, your values and what your goals are for your cancer treatment.

And if you’re on an immune checkpoint inhibitor, always keep the lines of communication open with your care team, make sure that you know how to get in touch with them if a complication comes up, what to do if a serious complication occurs, that you have information about your treatment so that you could communicate that to other care teams if you find yourself in a different setting than your typical care setting. And then, always have the open line of communication around symptoms, side effects (and) complications, so that you can catch things early but can manage and treat them effectively and that you can continue on your treatment, especially if it’s working well for you.

Transcript edited for clarity and conciseness.

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