Side Effects of Immunotherapy Now Include Interstitial Lung Disease

CURE, Immunotherapy Special Issue 2021,

Patients with cancer who are treated with checkpoint inhibitors or immunotherapy, along with other treatments, run the risk of developing ILD as a side effect.

A patient may walk into the emergency room with a complaint of shortness of breath and dry cough. It could be one of many problems, but these are two main signs of interstitial lung disease. Also referred to as ILD or pneumonitis, the disease is a lung condition that affects as many as 100,000 people in the United States, according to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. The general mechanism of ILD is inflammation, yet in the majority of these cases, it is not clear what causes the inflammation in the first place, whereas in others, it can be due to specific types of infections. In a time of new cancer therapeutics, however, one particular reason is immunotherapy. Patients with cancer who are treated with checkpoint inhibitors or immunotherapy, along with other treatments, run the risk of developing ILD as a side effect. Because of this, it is of the utmost importance that they be aware of the symptoms and side effects.

In this issue of CURE®, we speak with three experts on the development of ILD as a side effect of immunotherapy. Regarding this relatively new concept (reported cases of lung distress associated with immunotherapy started coming in around 2017), one expert noted that 2.5% or 3% of patients on immunotherapy develop ILD, and that there is still a lot to learn about the topic. She also spoke on the importance of catching the disease early in order to stop its progression. Another expert said it’s not a huge surprise that ILD is a side effect since it tends to be a risk to those with autoimmune disease, the common denominator being an overactive immune system that can cause inflammation in normal tissue.

On the topic of the awareness of side effects, you’ll find an article detailing what to keep an eye out for when going through cancer treatment, as well as the best steps to take. Some of the therapies used for this situation are also discussed.

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