Cancer immunotherapy has the goal of enhancing a patient’s intrinsic immune processes in order to mount a successful immune response against tumor cells. Cancer cells actively employ tactics to evade, delay, alter, or attenuate the anti-tumor immune response. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) modulate endogenous regulatory immune mechanisms to enhance immune system activation, and have become the mainstay of therapy in many cancer types. This activation occurs broadly and as a result, activation is supraphysiologic and relatively non-specific, which can lead to immune-related adverse events (irAEs), the frequency of which depends on the patient, the cancer type, and the specific ICI antibody. Careful assessment of patients for irAEs through history taking, physical exam, and routine laboratory assessments are key to identifying irAEs at early stages, when they can potentially be managed more easily and before progressing to higher grades or more serious effects. Generally, most patients with low grade irAEs are eligible for re-challenge with ICIs, and the use of corticosteroids to address an irAE is not associated with poorer patient outcomes. This paper reviews immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) including their mechanisms of action, usage, associated irAEs, and their management.
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