Gastrointestinal Adverse Effects of Immunotherapeutic Agents: A Systematic Review

Dushyant Singh Dahiya, Farah Wani, Jean Claude Guidi, Asim Kichloo


The utilization of immunotherapy is increasing to the point of becoming the fifth pillar of management alongside surgical intervention, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapy. However, gastrointestinal adverse effects and toxicities have been frequently cited with its use. As per literature, the most common adverse effect of immune checkpoint inhibitors is watery and non-bloody diarrhea. Adoptive cell therapy can lead to delayed, on-target but off-tumor adverse effects which are unknown and may be life-threatening. The use of anti-angiogenic monoclonal antibodies can lead to bowel perforations, whereas epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors and anti-HER2 agents are frequently associated with diarrhea. Minimal adverse effects have been associated with therapeutic cancer vaccines; however, additional studies are needed to determine their efficacy and potential toxicities. To provide an in-depth review of the gastrointestinal side effects of immunotherapeutic agents, we performed a thorough literature search using multiple online search engines such as PubMed, Google Scholar and Ovid MEDLINE, along with a review of the guidelines from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Cancer Research Institute on immunotherapy. In this systematic review, we detail the gastrointestinal adverse effects of immunotherapy and describe their management. With the advent of newer immunotherapeutic agents and the consistent approval of current agents by FDA for a wide spectrum of cancers, it is vital for physicians to familiarize themselves with their adverse effects for prompt diagnosis and early intervention to decrease adverse outcomes.

Gastroenterol Res. 2020;13(6):227-232


Immunotherapy; Gastrointestinal; Adverse effects; Immune checkpoint inhibitors; Adoptive cell therapy; Therapeutic cancer vaccines; Systematic review; Diarrhea; Colitis

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