New NCCN Guidelines Offer Patients Help in Recognizing Side Effects From Immunotherapy

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The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recently announced the publication of “NCCN Guidelines for Patients: Immunotherapy Side Effects—Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors.” These new guidelines are designed to educate patients and to help them recognize immune side effects so effective interventions can be started promptly.

Over the past decade, immunotherapy has become an important option for the treatment of some cancers, and it complements traditional approaches such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Although immunotherapy is often fairly well tolerated. emerging research shows it can result in side effects different from those of chemotherapy, including severe adverse events. In fact, researchers have found that 43% of patients have stopped treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors as a result of serious side effects.1

Patient-Friendly Guidance

The NCCN Guidelines for Patients are easy-to-understand, lay-language versions of the evidence-based, expert-consensus clinical practice guidelines used by health-care providers all over the globe. They enable patients and caregivers to get a better idea of their treatment options to make informed decisions about their care. Features include simple illustrations, suggested questions to ask, and a glossary of terms and acronyms.

The book stresses that immune-related adverse events can develop at any point during or after immunotherapy. Most side effects can be managed effectively if identified and treated early, generally via corticosteroids. The most common adverse effects are skin disorders.

A Trusted Resource

“The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is endorsing these NCCN materials about immunotherapy because we believe patients should understand all aspects of their care,” said Meredith Barnhart, Director of the society’s Information Resource Center. “As patients understand more about managing toxicity, they can take better care of themselves and be prepared to ask their health-care team the right questions to increase their quality of life.”

NCCN Guidelines for Patients are available free online at or via the NCCN Patient Guides for Cancer app. Printed copies are available at for a nominal fee. The guidelines cover all major cancers, including breast, colon, lung, pancreatic, and many others. A recent independent study of the “NCCN Guidelines for Patients: Prostate Cancer” found it to be among the most reliable and trustworthy sources for online health information. NCCN will soon add a second patient guideline on immunotherapy: chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy. The immunotherapy books join other supportive care manuals for cancer-related distress and nausea. 


1. Schadendorf D, Wolchok JD, Hodi FS, et al: Efficacy and safety outcomes in patients with advanced melanoma who discontinued treatment with nivolumab and ipilimumab because of adverse events: A pooled analysis of randomized phase II and III trials. J Clin Oncol 35:3807-3814, 2017.