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How is pembrolizumab (Keytruda) administered?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Sep 2, 2021.

Official answer


Key Points

  • Pembrolizumab (brand name: Keytruda) is a cancer medicine administered by a slow intravenous (IV) infusion into your vein, usually over a period of at least 30 minutes.
  • You will most likely receive this treatment in an outpatient clinic or hospital once every 3 or 6 weeks. Your health care provider will give you this medicine. It is important you do not miss your appointments.
  • This medicine may be administered alone or with other oral or IV treatments, depending upon your treatment plan.

Your doctor will determine the best dose and schedule for you based on the type of cancer or condition being treated, your weight, your health, other treatments, and side effects you may experience, among other factors.

You will continue this medicine until your disease worsens or you have bad side effects that require you to stop treatment. If you do not have disease progression, you would continue for up to 24 months, or possibly longer.

Patients being treated with Keytruda as an adjuvant for melanoma may continue for up to 12 months. Adjuvant therapy is given after primary treatment (such as surgery) to increase the chance of long-term survival.

Your doctor may perform a blood test to make sure pembrolizumab is the right treatment for your condition. You will need other medical tests to check on the safety of this medication and if you can continue treatment. Your doctor will also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Which cancers can pembrolizumab (Keytruda) treat?

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is an FDA-approved prescription used to treat many different cancers, including:

  • skin cancer (squamous cell, melanoma or Merkel cell carcinoma)
  • non-small cell lung cancer
  • head and neck squamous cell cancer
  • classical Hodgkin lymphoma
  • primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
  • cancer of the kidney, bladder, and urinary tract
  • liver cancer
  • endometrial cancer (uterine cancer) or cervical cancer
  • advanced stomach or esophageal cancer
  • triple negative breast cancer (TNBC)
  • types of cancer that laboratory testing proves to have certain specific DNA mutations, including colorectal cancer

Pembrolizumab is often given when other cancer treatments stop working or if the cancer has spread to other areas in the body. It may also be an option if the cancer cannot be removed surgically.

What kind of drug is pembrolizumab (Keytruda)?

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is known as an immune checkpoint inhibitor.

  • Checkpoints such as PD-L1 are proteins found on cell surfaces.
  • Drugs that target these checkpoints help our immune system to do a better job of fighting cancer.
  • In addition to PD-L1, PD-1 and CTLA-4 receptors are other protein targets for immune checkpoint inhibitors.

For some cancers, pembrolizumab may be used if your tumor tests positive for programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1). Drugs that target these checkpoints are now used to fight many different types of cancer. It may be used in combination with other medicines, as well.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors include:

  • Yervoy (ipilimumab)
  • Opdivo (nivolumab)
  • Keytruda (pembrolizumab)
  • Tecentriq (atezolizumab)
  • Bavencio (avelumab)
  • Imfinzi (durvalumab)
  • Libtayo (cemiplimab-rwlc)

How long does it take for pembrolizumab (Keytruda) to start working?

You will use pembrolizumab for as long as it works and you are able to tolerate the side effects. Most people use pembrolizumab for up to two years if tolerated and the medicine continues to be effective. Your doctor will decide the best length for your treatment.

Bottom Line

  • Pembrolizumab is a cancer medicine administered by a slow intravenous (IV) infusion into a vein, usually over at least 30 minutes.
  • You will most likely receive this medicine in a clinic or hospital setting once every 3 or 6 weeks, although this might vary. If you tolerate pembrolizumab well and your treatment is effective, your doctor may continue your treatment for up to 2 years, or possibly longer.
  • Your health care provider will give you this medicine. Be sure not to miss your appointments.

This is not all the information you need to know about pembrolizumab (brand name: Keytruda) for safe and effective use. Review the full pembrolizumab (Keytruda) product information here, and discuss this information with your doctor or other health care provider.


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