Grade 4 Neutropenia Secondary to Immune Checkpoint Inhibition – A Descriptive Observational Retrospective Multicenter Analysis.

Zaremba A, Kramer R, De Temple V, Bertram S, Salzmann M, Gesierich A, Reinhardt L, Baroudjian B, Sachse MM, Mechtersheimer G, Johnson DB, Weppler AM, Spain L, Loquai C, Dudda M, Pföhler C, Hepner A, Long GV, Menzies AM, Carlino MS, Lebbé C, Enokida T, Tahara M, Bröckelmann PJ, Eigentler T, Kähler KC, Gutzmer R, Berking C, Ugurel S, Stadtler N, Sucker A, Becker JC, Livingstone E, Meier F, Hassel JC, Schadendorf D, Hanoun M, Heinzerling L, Zimmer L. Front Oncol. (21 Oct 2021)


Introduction: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) are increasingly being used to treat numerous cancer types. Together with improved recognition of toxicities, this has led to more frequent identification of rare immune-related adverse events (irAE), for which specific treatment strategies are needed. Neutropenia is a rare hematological irAE that has a potential for a high mortality rate because of its associated risk of sepsis. Prompt recognition and timely treatment of this life-threatening irAE are therefore critical to the outcome of patients with immune-related neutropenia.

Methods: This multicenter international retrospective study was conducted at 17 melanoma centers to evaluate the clinical characteristics, diagnostics, treatment, and outcomes of melanoma patients with grade 4 neutropenia (<500 neutrophils/µl blood) treated with ICI between 2014 and 2020. Some of these patients received metamizole in addition to ICI (ICI+/met+). Bone marrow biopsies (BMB) of these patients were compared to BMB from non-ICI treated patients with metamizole-induced grade 4 neutropenia (ICI-/met+).

Results: In total, 10 patients (median age at neutropenia onset: 66 years; seven men) with neutropenia were identified, equating to an incidence of 0.14%. Median onset of neutropenia was 6.4 weeks after starting ICI (range 1.4-49.1 weeks). Six patients showed inflammatory symptoms, including fever (n=3), erysipelas (n=1), pharyngeal abscess (n=1), and mucositis (n=1). Neutropenia was diagnosed in all patients by a differential blood count and additionally performed procedures including BMB (n=5). Nine of 10 patients received granulocyte colony-stimulating factors (G-CSF) to treat their grade 4 neutropenia. Four patients received systemic steroids (including two in combination with G-CSF, and one in combination with G-CSF and additional ciclosporin A). Four patients were treated with one or more antibiotic treatment lines, two with antimycotic treatment, and one with additional antiviral therapy. Five patients received metamizole concomitantly with ICI. One fatal outcome was reported. BMB indicated a numerically lower CD4+ to CD8+ T cells ratio in patients with irNeutropenia than in those with metamizole-induced neutropenia.

Conclusion: Grade 4 neutropenia is a rare but potentially life-threatening side effect of ICI treatment. Most cases were sufficiently managed using G-CSF; however, adequate empiric antibiotic, antiviral, and antimycotic treatments should be administered if neutropenic infections are suspected. Immunosuppression using corticosteroids may be considered after other causes of neutropenia have been excluded.