MADRID – EULAR has issued recommendations to help rheumatologists address the increasingly common clinical issue of diagnosing and managing rheumatic-related adverse events associated with cancer immunotherapy.
“The rheumatic adverse events associated with immunotherapy represent a spectrum of new clinical entities, and they are challenging because they can be difficult to control while attempting to preserve the antitumor effects of oncological drugs,” Marie Kostine, MD, of the Centre Universitaire Hospitalier, Bordeaux, France, explained at the European Congress of Rheumatology.
The recommendations were drawn from the deliberations of an expert task force that identified the clinical issues to address and then developed a consensus about best practice recommendations. In addition to rheumatologists with expertise in this field, the task force included oncologists, allied health personnel, and two patient representatives.
The recommendations include four overarching principles and 10 recommendations.
“One of the overarching principles regards the importance of shared decision making between rheumatologists, oncologists, and patients,” Dr. Kostine said. Because of the expertise of rheumatologists in employing immunomodulatory therapies as they pertain to inflammation of the joints, the recommendations emphasize the value of their collaboration in clinical decisions.
The recommendations address patient referral, the assessment of preexisting rheumatic conditions, diagnosis, and therapeutic strategies.
“Rheumatologists should make themselves aware of the wide spectrum of potential clinical presentations of rheumatic adverse events following the initiation of immunotherapy,” Dr. Kostine said. While rheumatoid arthritis–like symptoms are common, the immune activation produced by checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies can affect nearly every organ in the body, which includes diverse involvement of joint tissues.
In addition to joint pain, which has occurred in up to 40% of patients receiving a checkpoint inhibitor in some series, rheumatology-related events can include vasculitis, systemic sclerosis, and lupus. When associated with immunotherapy, these events sometimes develop in the absence of inflammatory markers or autoantibodies.
The new consensus guidelines emphasize that glucocorticoids can be “considered” to control rheumatic-related adverse events despite their immunosuppressive effect. However, because of their potential to attenuate the benefit of immune activation for treatment of the oncologic disease, such drugs, if used, “should be tapered to the lowest effective dose.”
The consensus recommendations were based on an extensive literature review, but Dr. Kostine acknowledged that prospective studies regarding the best practices for managing rheumatic-related adverse events of immunotherapies remain limited. She suggested that this knowledge gap was one reason for creating an expert task force.
“There has been an immunotherapy revolution, such that rheumatologists who have not yet seen these adverse events soon will,” said Dr. Kostine, noting that the number of approved immunotherapies and their clinical indications have been increasing rapidly.
The EULAR recommendations were created specifically for rheumatologists. In addition to guiding them toward best practice, the report from the task force provides background on the clinical issues raised by therapies that cause inflammatory side effects while stimulating immune function to treat malignancy.