Neoadjuvant Versus Adjuvant Immune Checkpoint Blockade in the Treatment of Clinical Stage III Melanoma

BACKGROUND:

Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) has transformed melanoma treatment, but optimal sequencing of ICB and surgery for clinically evident nodal metastasis remains undefined. We evaluated adjuvant-only (AT) and neoadjuvant/adjuvant (NAT) ICB with respect to survival outcomes in this patient population.

METHODS:

Patients who underwent lymphadenectomy (1 January 2011 to 31 July 2018) and received perioperative ICB at an academic center were identified. AT was defined as postoperative ICB, and NAT was defined as one to two cycles of ICB prior to resection with continuation of therapy following surgery. Three-year disease-free survival (DFS), locoregional recurrence-free survival (LRFS), distant disease-free survival (DDFS), and melanoma-specific survival (MSS) were estimated.

RESULTS:

Of 59 patients, 18 (31%) received AT and 41 (69%) received NAT. The AT and NAT groups did not differ in age (median 53 vs. 62 years, p = 0.16) or stage (IIIB 33% vs. 29%, IIIC 56% vs. 68%, IIID 11% vs. 2%, p = 0.34). Although 3-year DFS did not differ significantly by treatment sequencing (NAT vs. AT, hazard ratio [HR] 0.56, p = 0.17), NAT was associated with improved 3-year DDFS (HR 0.38, p = 0.028). Of 39 NAT patients with evaluable pathologic response, 23 (59%) and 5 (13%) had a pathologic partial response (pPR) and pathologic complete response (pCR), respectively. Patients with pPR/pCR experienced improved 3-year DFS (HR 0.16, p = 0.001), LRFS (HR 0.17, p = 0.003), and DDFS (HR 0.26, p = 0.029) compared with those with no response. Three-year MSS did not differ significantly by response (p = 0.062).

CONCLUSION:

NAT may be associated with improved 3-year DDFS compared with AT sequencing, and allows for early assessment of pathologic response. Further prospective evaluation of treatment sequencing is warranted.