Understanding Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors for Effective Patient Care

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Background:Immune checkpoint inhibitors represent a paradigm change in the treatment of melanoma and other advanced cancers. These agents manipulate key immune-regulating pathways to restore immune responses against tumors. The success of this approach is demonstrated by ipilimumab (Yervoy®) for the treatment of advanced melanoma, with improvement in three-year survival rates of about 20%. Newer checkpoint inhibitors targeting the programmed death-1 (PD-1) pathway have been approved and may have higher response rates and improved tolerability.Objectives:This article aims to educate nurses and increase their comfort level with these new therapies.Methods:The mechanism of action of immune checkpoint inhibitors is reviewed, and insight is provided on how nurses can use this knowledge to more effectively care for patients receiving these therapies.Findings:The use of immuno-oncology agents is increasing. Oncology nurses must understand the basic immune mechanism of action responsible for the novel toxicity profile characterized by immune-related adverse events (irAEs) and clinical response patterns. Managing irAEs with immune checkpoint inhibitors is not necessarily more difficult than with conventional agents, but a difference does exist. Nurses and other healthcare providers must consider the underlying cause of toxicity with immune checkpoint inhibitors when making management decisions.

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