Background: Newly approved immunotherapeutic agents, like CTLA-4 inhibitors and antibodies against PD-1, are a promising therapeutic option in cancer therapy.
Case presentation: A 74-year-old man, with a history of advanced stage melanoma and treatment with ipilimumab, pembrolizumab and nivolumab, was admitted to the hospital due to respiratory failure with hypoxemia and dyspnoea. He rapidly developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which required treatment in the intensive care unit which included mechanical ventilation and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Computed tomographic imaging (CT) showed signs of a pneumonitis, with an ARDS pattern related to the use of PD-1 antibodies. Treating the patient with high-dose immunosuppressive steroids led to an overall improvement. He was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital and subsequently to his home.
Discussion and conclusion: This is a unique case report of a patient suffering a grade 4 adverse event under nivolumab who survived having been treated with ECMO. It highlights the possibility of associated adverse reactions as well as the use of ECMO in palliative care patients. ECMO can be of great success even in patients with malignancies, but careful decision making should be done on a case by case basis.