Life-threatening "hyper-progression" on immunotherapy revealed as pseudo-progression in DNA mismatch repair deficiency: a case report

Mojun Zhu, Chitra Ganesan, Siobhan Flanagan, Harry H. Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Distinguishing pseudo-progression from true progression on immunotherapy remains a clinical challenge. Clinical tools to aid in this task are currently lacking. DNA mismatch repair (MMR) status is a known predictive marker for anti-programmed death (PD)-1 therapy, but its role in helping to address this situation is not well-defined. Case Description: We report the first case, to our knowledge, of life-threatening hyper-progression which was later revealed to be pseudo-progression in a patient with a deficient MMR (dMMR) tumor. We describe a 62-year-old man with advanced dMMR gastric cancer who was being treated with pembrolizumab monotherapy. After three doses of pembrolizumab he exhibited signs and symptoms that met all applicable definitions of hyper-progression in the setting of acute life-threatening gastrointestinal hemorrhage, extensive radiographic progression of metastases, and increasing carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Comfort measures were considered given the appearance of hyper-progression. But partly given the patient's request, aggressive support was provided, including blood products, vasopressors, and splenic artery embolization. His condition improved, and subsequent scans revealed regression of his metastases and decreased CEA, confirming pseudo-progression. Pembrolizumab was restarted. The patient remains on pembrolizumab with minimal tumor burden more than one year later. Conclusions: This case demonstrates that life-threatening hyper-progression can represent pseudo-progression and suggests that MMR status could be important to consider in determining the aggressiveness of clinical management during apparent hyper-progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-441
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Gastrointestinal Oncology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 AME Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  • case report
  • hyper-progression
  • immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI)
  • microsatellite instability
  • Mismatch repair (MMR)
  • pseudo-progression

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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