Debra Madden Discusses Importance of Educating Patients on Immuno-Oncology Risks

Immuno-oncology is often portrayed as having less severe side effects than chemotherapy, but patients need to be aware that it does carry some risks, said Debra L. Madden, cancer research advocate and patient representative. Patients should not hesitate to report any adverse effects to their doctor.

Immuno-oncology is often portrayed as having less severe side effects than chemotherapy, but patients need to be aware that it does carry some risks, said Debra L. Madden, cancer research advocate and patient representative. Patients should not hesitate to report any adverse effects to their doctor.

Transcript (slightly modified)

Why do patients need to be educated on the risks of immuno-oncology?

The immuno-oncology agents, they may well have different side effects than the typical side effects associated with chemotherapy, for example. There has been a lot of information in the popular media talking about the promise of immuno-oncologic drugs, how it’s such an important breakthrough, and that is true. However, patients do need to understand really the context about how some of this information is being presented.

Often times in the media you’ll see them saying that if you’re on immuno-oncology drugs, the side effects aren’t going to be nearly as severe as what you would experience with chemotherapy or even some targeted agents. But what they’re not saying is that some patients may go on to experience a unique spectrum of adverse effects that are essentially autoimmune in nature, because if your immune system is continuing to act against the tumor, ultimately it’s possible that healthy tissues may also be affected.

So essentially, patients need to understand that if this does happen, it can affect any bodily system. I once heard a clinician say it can cause “any-itis.” So it can affect the bone marrow, it can affect the liver, dermatologic findings are most common. And no, it doesn’t happen with every patient, and fortunately it’s relatively rare and infrequent, and it can be treated. But, folks need to understand this going in, they need to understand the potential benefits as well as the potential harms, and they also need to understand the importance of being very vigilant and reporting any symptoms that may be suggestive of these types of autoimmune findings to their doctors.

A lot of times patients are worried that, “Oh, I don’t want to burden the doctor. I feel like I’m reporting every single ache and pain.” With these agents, it’s very important that you report everything that you’re experiencing, because it’s very possible the doctor might need to see you to rule out whether it is indeed one of these adverse effects in this unique spectrum.