The New York Times had a front-page article on Sunday about some of the severe side effects of cancer immunotherapies.
Cancer cells can elude the immune system by engaging an immune checkpoint on a T-cell. That effectively shuts down the T-cell. But checkpoint inhibitors — like the four immunotherapies approved by the FDA — block that checkpoint and allow T-cells to attack cancer cells. In doing so, however, the immune system can attack bowels, liver, lungs, kidneys, adrenal and pituitary glands, the heart, and the pancreas. Some patients are seeing insulin production suddenly stop.
Certain therapies cause severe immune reactions in nearly 20% of patients. When treatments are used in combination, over half of patients can have reactions.
Since immunotherapies are so new, many healthcare facilities are not experienced in dealing with these severe adverse events, the article notes.