Generic name: pembrolizumab (PEM broe LIZ ue mab)
Brand name: Keytruda
Dosage forms: intravenous powder for injection (50 mg); intravenous solution (25 mg/mL)
Drug class: Anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibodies
What is pembrolizumab?
Pembrolizumab is a cancer medicine that is used alone or in combination with other medicines to treat certain types of cancer such as:
skin cancer (melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma);
classical Hodgkin lymphoma;
primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma;
cancer of the kidney, bladder, and urinary tract;
triple-negative breast cancer;
cancer of the cervix or uterus;
advanced stomach or esophageal cancer; or
a type of cancer that laboratory testing proves to have certain specific DNA mutations.
Pembrolizumab is often given when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body or cannot be treated with surgery or radiation, or when other cancer treatments did not work or have stopped working.
For some types of cancer, pembrolizumab is given only if your tumor tests positive for "PD-L1", or if the tumor has been tested for a specific genetic marker (including "EGFR," "ALK," "HER2/neu," or "TMB").
Pembrolizumab may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.
Pembrolizumab can cause serious or life-threatening side effects. 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.
Call your doctor at once if you have: skin problems, vision problems, fever, swollen glands, neck stiffness, chest pain, cough, shortness of breath, muscle or joint pain, pale skin, weakness, diarrhea, severe stomach pain, blood in your stools, bruising or bleeding, dark urine, yellowing of the skin or eyes, a hormonal disorder (frequent headaches, feeling light-headed, rapid heartbeats, a deeper voice, increased thirst or urination, feeling cold, weight gain or loss), or a change in the amount or color of your urine.
Before taking this medicine
Tell your doctor if you have ever had:
lung disease or a breathing disorder;
diabetes, or a thyroid disorder;
an adrenal gland disorder;
an organ transplant or stem cell transplant;
radiation to your chest; or
a nerve-muscle disorder such as myasthenia gravis or Guillain-Barré syndrome.
You may need to have a negative pregnancy test before starting this treatment. Do not use pembrolizumab if you are pregnant. It could harm the unborn baby. Use effective birth control to prevent pregnancy while you are using pembrolizumab and for at least 4 months after your last dose. Tell your doctor right away if you become pregnant.
Do not breastfeed while using pembrolizumab, and for at least 4 months after your last dose.
How is pembrolizumab given?
Your doctor will perform a blood test to make sure pembrolizumab is the right treatment for your condition.
Pembrolizumab is given as an infusion into a vein, usually once every 3 to 6 weeks. A healthcare provider will give you this injection.
This medicine must be given slowly, and the infusion can take at least 30 minutes to complete.
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.
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?
Follow your doctor's instructions about any restrictions on food, beverages, or activity.
Pembrolizumab side effects
Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction (hives, difficult breathing, swelling in your face or throat) or a severe skin reaction (fever, sore throat, burning eyes, skin pain, red or purple skin rash with blistering and peeling).
Some side effects may occur during the injection. Tell your caregiver if you feel dizzy, light-headed, itchy, hot, sweaty, chilled, or have back pain or trouble breathing.
Pembrolizumab strengthens your immune system to help your body fight against cancer cells. This may cause the immune system to attack normal healthy tissues or organs. When this happens, you may develop serious or life-threatening medical problems.
Call your doctor at once if you have:
new or worsening cough, chest pain, shortness of breath;
pale skin, easy bruising or bleeding;
sores in your mouth, throat, or nose, or on your genital area;
numbness, tingling, burning pain, redness, rash, or blisters on your hands or feet;
fever, swollen glands, neck stiffness;
diarrhea or increased stools, severe stomach pain, bloody or tarry stools;
kidney problems--swelling in your ankles, blood in your urine, little or no urination;
transplant rejection--mouth sores, stomach pain, feeling sick or uneasy, rash, pain or swelling near your transplanted organ; or
signs of a hormonal disorder--frequent or unusual headaches, dizziness, feeling very tired, 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.
Your cancer treatments may be delayed or permanently discontinued if you have certain side effects.
Common side effects (some are more likely with combination chemotherapy) may include:
nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation;
low sodium levels, abnormal liver or thyroid function tests;
fever, feeling weak or tired;
cough, hoarse voice, feeling short of breath;
itching, rash, hair loss;
increased blood pressure;
pain in your muscles, bones, or joints; or
soreness in or around your mouth, nose, eyes, throat, or vagina.
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.
What other drugs will affect pembrolizumab?
Other drugs may affect pembrolizumab, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell your doctor about all your current medicines and any medicine you start or stop using.
Frequently asked questions
- Pembrolizumab vs. nivolumab: how do they compare?
- How does it affect the immune system?
- How does it kill cancer cells?
- How are Inlyta and Keytruda used in kidney cancer?
- What type of cancer is it used for?
- Is this used for endometrial cancer?
- How is it administered?
More about pembrolizumab
- Side Effects
- During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
- Dosage Information
- Drug Interactions
- En Español
- 146 Reviews
- Drug class: anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibodies
- Other brands
Related treatment guides
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.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.
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