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Anne Bass, MD: Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Rheumatic Disease


Anne Bass, MD, rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, discusses how rheumatologists treat musculoskeletal adverse events caused by immune checkpoint inhibitors.


Immune checkpoint inhibition for cancer therapy can result in musculoskeletal adverse events, how are these adverse effects treated in the rheumatology clinic?

So, this is a really exciting area because these immunotherapies are prolonging the lives of people with metastatic cancer who had otherwise would’ve died. They work by stimulating the immune system and allowing it to target the cancer. Not surprisingly, when you stimulate the immune system, you can cause autoimmune diseases; and that’s what we’re seeing and they take many shapes and forms. Some of the earliest ones we knew about were immunity in the skin and colitis involving the gastrointestinal track, but as time has gone on we’ve come to realize that some of these patients— probably about 5%– develop an inflammatory arthritis and it can take, again, many forms.

I think one of the reasons there was a little delay in recognition is that it may be a little bit more common with some of the newer immunotherapies that target PD-1 and PD-L1 as compared to the older therapies with CTLA4 blockers, and it's seen particularly [common] when you use those 2 groups in combination. So, patients will come to a rheumatologist as they would if they had inflammatory arthritis that developed in some other context and these patients have all different kinds of presentations. Some of them have zero-positive rheumatoid arthritis that looks for all the world like rheumatoid arthritis, others have fewer joints affected, or they have tendons that are swollen. We’ve seen polymyalgia rheumatica, and their case is almost of every rheumatic disease you can think of with these checkpoint inhibitors. There are many fewer cases of things like lupus and drama monocytes though than there are of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and the inflammatory rhinitis in general.

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