Cancer groups offer guidance on musculoskeletal adverse events related to checkpoint inhibitors


Recently released guidelines from two major cancer organizations have provided some of the most comprehensive guidance to date on management of musculoskeletal side effects associated with cancer immunotherapy.

The guidelines, published in February, are a “sorely needed” reference point for the rheumatology community and others who will be encountering patients who experience immune-related adverse events (irAEs), according to Leonard H. Calabrese, DO, the R.J. Fasenmyer Chair of Clinical Immunology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“They’re a good first start, given the fact that up until 4 or 5 months ago, there were no endorsed guidelines that included oncologists and rheumatologists,” Dr. Calabrese said of the guidelines, which were collaboratively developed and recently released by both the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

Rheumatologists can add value

“We talk a lot about rheumatologists being aware of these diseases, but it’s been pointed out by some oncologists that unless they’re really knowledgeable and can add considerably to the management, it doesn’t do any good just to be aware of it,” Dr. Calabrese explained. “You need to actually have some procedural knowledge.”

Dr. Leonard Calabrese

Dr. Leonard Calabrese

NCCN guidelines provide specific algorithms to guide management of myalgias/myositis and inflammatory arthritis, while the ASCO guidelines provide recommendations and discussion on management of inflammatory arthritis and myositis.

ASCO guidelines also describe a polymyalgia-like syndrome seen in some patients on immune checkpoint inhibitors that according to the guideline authors is characterized by pain, but not true muscle weakness.

In general, the guidelines endorse a stepwise approach, in which milder irAEs can be managed with conservative treatments and without the need to stop the immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy. In contrast, more serious side effects may require more intensive management and either temporary or permanent discontinuation of cancer immunotherapy.


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