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Generic Name: pembrolizumab (PEM broe LIZ ue mab)
Brand Name: Keytruda

What is pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is a cancer medicine that interferes with the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body.

Pembrolizumab is used to treat advanced skin cancer (melanoma) that has spread to other parts of the body or cannot be surgically removed.

Pembrolizumab is also used to treat a certain type of non-small cell lung cancer, if your tumor has a specific genetic marker for which your doctor will test.

Pembrolizumab is also used to treat head and neck cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, or has come back after prior treatment.

Pembrolizumab is often given after other cancer medicine has been tried without success.

Pembrolizumab was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on an "accelerated" basis to treat lung cancer or head and neck cancer. In clinical studies, tumors responded to this medicine. However, it has not been shown that pembrolizumab can improve symptoms or lengthen survival time.

Pembrolizumab may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

What is the most important information I should know about pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab can cause side effects that may cause symptoms in many different parts of your body. Some side effects may need to be treated with other medicine, and your cancer treatments may be delayed. You will need frequent medical tests to help your doctor determine if it is safe for you to keep receiving pembrolizumab.

What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before receiving pembrolizumab?

To make sure pembrolizumab is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:

  • a lung disease or a breathing disorder;

  • liver or kidney disease;

  • a thyroid disorder;

  • an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis; or

  • if you have ever had an organ transplant.

Do not use pembrolizumab if you are pregnant. It could harm the unborn baby. Tell your doctor right away if you become pregnant during treatment. Use effective birth control while you are using this medicine and for at least 4 months after your treatment ends.

It is not known whether pembrolizumab passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. You should not breast-feed while using this medicine and for at least 4 months after your last dose.

Pembrolizumab is not approved for use by anyone younger than 18 years old.

How is pembrolizumab given?

Before you start treatment, your doctor will perform tests to make sure pembrolizumab is the best treatment for your type of cancer.

Pembrolizumab is injected into a vein through an IV. A healthcare provider will give you this injection.

Pembrolizumab is usually given once every 3 weeks. Your doctor will determine how long to treat you with this medicine. Follow your doctor's dosing instructions.

Pembrolizumab can cause certain side effects by changing the way your immune system works. These side effects can cause symptoms in many different parts of your body. Some side effects may need to be treated with other medicine, and your cancer treatments may be delayed or stopped altogether.

You will need frequent medical tests to help your doctor determine if it is safe for you to keep receiving pembrolizumab. Do not miss any follow-up visits to your doctor.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Call your doctor for instructions if you miss an appointment for your pembrolizumab injection.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while receiving pembrolizumab?

This medicine can pass into body fluids (urine, feces, vomit). For at least 48 hours after you receive a dose, avoid allowing your body fluids to come into contact with your hands or other surfaces. Caregivers should wear rubber gloves while cleaning up a patient's body fluids, handling contaminated trash or laundry or changing diapers. Wash hands before and after removing gloves. Wash soiled clothing and linens separately from other laundry.

Pembrolizumab side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Some side effects may occur during the injection. Tell your caregiver right away if you feel dizzy, light-headed, itchy, hot or cold, sweaty, tingly, feverish, or if you have trouble breathing.

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • new or worsening cough, chest pain, feeling short of breath;

  • pale skin, easy bruising or bleeding;

  • severe muscle weakness, severe or ongoing muscle aches, joint pain;

  • diarrhea or increased stools, severe stomach pain, bloody or tarry stools;

  • signs of a hormonal disorder--frequent or unusual headaches, vision problems, feeling light-headed or very tired, rapid heartbeats, mood or behavior changes, hoarse or deepened voice, increased hunger or thirst, increased urination, constipation, hair loss, sweating, feeling cold, weight gain, or weight loss;

  • symptoms of a kidney problem--urinating more or less than usual, pelvic pain, vomiting, swelling in your ankles or feet, pain or burning when you urinate, bloody or cloudy urine; or

  • symptoms of liver problems--nausea, loss of appetite, upper stomach pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

Your cancer treatments may be delayed or permanently discontinued if you have certain side effects.

Common side effects may include:

  • nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation;

  • itching or rash;

  • cough;

  • joint pain; or

  • feeling tired.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

See also: Side effects (in more detail)

What other drugs will affect pembrolizumab?

Other drugs may interact with pembrolizumab, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell each of your health care providers about all medicines you use now and any medicine you start or stop using.

Where can I get more information?

  • Your pharmacist can provide more information about pembrolizumab.
  • Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.
  • Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by Cerner Multum, Inc. ('Multum') is accurate, up-to-date, and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. Drug information contained herein may be time sensitive. Multum information has been compiled for use by healthcare practitioners and consumers in the United States and therefore Multum does not warrant that uses outside of the United States are appropriate, unless specifically indicated otherwise. Multum's drug information does not endorse drugs, diagnose patients or recommend therapy. Multum's drug information is an informational resource designed to assist licensed healthcare practitioners in caring for their patients and/or to serve consumers viewing this service as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise, skill, knowledge and judgment of healthcare practitioners. The absence of a warning for a given drug or drug combination in no way should be construed to indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective or appropriate for any given patient. Multum does not assume any responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of information Multum provides. The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. If you have questions about the drugs you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Copyright 1996-2012 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 1.07.

Date modified: October 14, 2016
Last reviewed: August 30, 2016