Expanding the reach of available cancer therapies


In this edition of “How I Will Treat My Next Patient,” I highlight two articles that demonstrate the safety of established treatments – nephrectomy and stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR) – in patient populations that previously may have been excluded from those treatments at many centers.

Dr. Alan P. Lyss has been a community-based medical oncologist and clinical researcher for more than 35 years, practicing in St. Louis.

Dr. Alan P. Lyss

Nephrectomy in advanced RCC

Nirmish Singla, MD, and colleagues reported a single-center retrospective cohort study, assessing outcomes of 11 nephrectomies (10 radical, 1 partial) in 10 patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) who had received front- or later-line immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy (ICIs). Half had received nivolumab alone; the others received nivolumab plus ipilimumab. Surgery was performed laparoscopically in five cases (Urol Oncol. 2019 Dec;37[12]:924-31).

No patient experienced a major intraoperative complication. Four experienced postoperative complications, the majority of which were addressed with interventional radiology procedures. The median hospital stay was 4 days. One patient died of progressive disease more than 3 months after surgery, and another died of pulmonary embolism and sepsis. Six of the 10 patients did not have any complications or readmissions. There were no immune-related toxicities and no wound-healing issues. ICI therapy was resumed postoperatively in six patients.

At nephrectomy (plus or minus metastatectomy), one patient achieved a response to immunotherapy in the primary tumor, and three of four patients who underwent resection of hepatic, pulmonary, or adrenal metastases had no detectable cancer. All surgical margins were negative.

During a median postoperative follow-up of 180 days, nephrectomy following ICI was safe. Pathologic response in both the primary tumor and metastatic sites was encouraging.

What this means in clinical practice

In medical school, all of us are admonished not to be afraid to unlearn something and to learn something new. Historically, nephrectomy was felt to be helpful in improving overall survival in patients with advanced RCC. Effective targeted therapies and ICIs have caused us to question the role of nephrectomy and its timing, since 20%-40% of patients who have apparently localized RCC at the time of nephrectomy develop recurrences within 3 years. Preoperative therapy could mitigate potentially aggressive tumor biology, treat micrometastatic disease, and help select patients who should not be treated surgically.

In the CARMENA trial of the treatment of advanced RCC patients with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor sunitinib versus nephrectomy followed by sunitinib, most patients could avoid nephrectomy without compromising survival (N Engl J Med. 2018; 379:417-27). Results were updated at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Overall, nephrectomy was not beneficial. However, delayed nephrectomy (after sunitinib) appeared be beneficial for good responders with only one IMDC (International Metastatic RCC Database Consortium) risk factor and only one metastatic site.

The small study by Dr. Singla and colleagues illustrates that nephrectomy is feasible after ICI, plus or minus anti-CTLA4-targeted treatment, and that favorable histologic results can be achieved. With ICI plus or minus anti-CTLA4-targeted treatment, no patient had progressive disease prior to surgery. This experience is germane in view of recently updated results of the CheckMate 214 trial, showing superior overall survival, response rates, and response duration for nivolumab plus ipilimumab, in comparison with sunitinib.

There are still unresolved questions, including whether these favorable outcomes can be achieved in community practice and whether there are genomic or immunohistochemistry expression profiles to select patients who can benefit from this approach. It’s unclear whether there are practical issues that influence outcome, such as type of ICI, number of preoperative treatment cycles, and additional systemic therapies including postoperative treatment. However, the current series rings the starting bell for the study of those questions and a promising era for patients with this deadly disease.


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