Nivolumab

Nivolumab treats certain types of skin, lung, kidney, bladder, blood, head and neck cancers, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer. This medication may also cause a rash.

Nivolumab Overview

Reviewed: December 22, 2014
Updated: 

Nivolumab is a prescription medication used to treat certain types of skin, lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck cancers, and colorectal cancer. Nivolumab also treats Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition, nivolumab treats liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) in patients who have been previously treated with sorafenib

Nivolumab belongs to a group of drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. These work by giving the immune system the opportunity to attack cancer cells.

This medication is available in an injectable form to be given directly into a vein (IV) by a healthcare professional.

Common side effects of nivolumab include rash, itching, cough, upper respiratory tract infections, and fluid retention.

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Nivolumab Cautionary Labels

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Uses of Nivolumab

Nivolumab is a prescription medication used to treat patients with:

  • unresectable (cannot be removed by surgery) or metastatic melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs.
  • advanced (metastatic) squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with progression after previous treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy.
  • advanced (metastatic) renal (kidney) cancer
  • with BRAF V600 wild-type and BRAF V600 mutation-positive unresectable or advanced (metastatic) skin cancer (melanoma) in combination with Yervoy (ipilimumab)
  • untreated BRAF mutation-positive advanced (metastatic) skin cancer (melanoma)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma that has returned or has worsened despite receiving a bone marrow transplant and Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin) after the transplant
  • recurrent or advanced (metastatic) cancer of the head and neck (progression after platinum-based therapy)
  • locally advanced or metastatic urinary system cancer (bladder cancer) who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy or have disease progression within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment with a platinum-containing chemotherapy.
  • adults and children 12 years of age and older with a type of colon or rectal cancer (colorectal cancer). Opdivo may be used to treat when the colon cancer or rectal cancer:
    • has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic),
    • has progressed after treatment with a fluoropyrimidine, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan, and
    • is mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) or microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H)
  • liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) who have been previously treated with sorafenib

This medication may be prescribed for other uses. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Common side effects of nivolumab include rash, itching, cough, upper respiratory tract infections, and fluid retention.

Nivolumab Brand Names

Nivolumab may be found in some form under the following brand names:

Nivolumab Drug Class

Nivolumab is part of the drug class:

Side Effects of Nivolumab

Serious side effects have been reported with nivolumab. See the “Drug Precautions” section.

Common side effects of nivolumab include the following:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Cough
  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Fluid retention
  • Liver injury
  • High levels of potassium in the body
  • Low levels of sodium (salt) in the body
  • Unusual weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain

This is not a complete list of side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information. Tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Nivolumab Interactions

No drug interactions have been studied by the manufacturer. However, you should tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Not all drug interactions are known or reported and new drug interactions are continually being reported.

Nivolumab Precautions

Serious side effects have been reported with nivolumab including the following:

  • Lung Problems (pneumonitis). This is a condition where lung tissues become inflamed or swollen. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Cough
    • Tiredness or fatigue
    • Loss of appetite
    • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Intestinal Problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine. This is a condition where the intestines and the colon become inflamed or swollen. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • Diarrhea, which can have blood or pus
    • Stomach pain or cramps
    • Pain in the rectum or anus
    • Bleeding from the rectum or anus
    • Having trouble defecating (going to the restroom) even though you feel the need to
    • Losing weight unintentionally
    • Fever
    • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Liver problems (hepatitis). This is a condition where the liver becomes inflamed or swollen, causing damage to the liver. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • Loss of appetite
    • Tiredness or fatigue
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Stomach pain or discomfort, especially on your right side below the ribs
    • Fever
    • Muscle pain or joint pain
    • Headaches
    • Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Kidney problems including nephritis and kidney failure. This is a condition where the kidneys become inflamed or swollen, causing damage to the kidneys. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • Pain in the very bottom of your stomach (pelvis)
    • Blood in the urine (pee)
    • Pain in the lower back
    • Increases in blood pressure
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fever
    • Fluid retention and swelling in the body
  • Hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, and glands). Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • headaches that will not go away or unusual headaches
    • extreme tiredness
    • changes in mood or behavior, such as decreased sex drive, irritability, or forgetfulness
    • dizziness or fainting
    • hair loss
    • feeling cold
    • constipation
    • voice gets deeper 
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms: 
    • headache
    • fever
    • tiredness or weakness
    • confusion
    • memory problems
    • sleepiness
    • seeing or hearing things that are not really there (hallucinations)
    • seizures
    • stiff neck
  • Skin problems such as rash, itching, or ulcers in mouth or other mucous membranes
  • Severe infusion reactions. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you get these symptoms during an infusion of nivolumab:
    • chills or shaking
    • dizziness
    • itching or rash
    • fever
    • flushing
    • feeling like passing out
    • difficulty breathing
  • Problems in other organs. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms:
    • rash
    • itching
    • skin blistering
    • ulcers in mouth or other mucous membranes
    • change in eyesight
    • severe or persistent muscle or joint pains
    • severe muscle weakness
  • There is a chance for complications with stem cell transplant that uses donor stem cells (allogeneic) after treatment with this medication. These complications can be very serious. Your healthcare provider will monitor you for signs of complications after you receive a stem cell transplant.
  • Do not take nivolumab if you are allergic to nivolumab or to any of its ingredients.

Nivolumab Food Interactions

Medications can interact with certain foods. In some cases, this may be harmful and your doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods. In the case of nivolumab, there are no specific foods that you must exclude from your diet when receiving this medication.

Inform MD

Before taking nivolumab, tell your doctor about all of your medical conditions. Especially tell your doctor if you:

  • are allergic to nivolumab or to any of its ingredients
  • have or have had intestinal problems, including colitis
  • have liver problems
  • have kidney problems
  • have lung problems or trouble breathing
  • have thyroid problems
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Nivolumab and Pregnancy

In animal studies, pregnant animals were given this medication and had some babies born with problems. No well-controlled studies have been done in humans. Nivolumab can cross the placenta. Nivolumab is expected to cause harm to the fetus if it is used during pregnancy. 

Nivolumab and Lactation

Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.

It is not known if nivolumab crosses into human milk. Because many medications can cross into human milk and because of the possibility for serious adverse reactions in nursing infants with the use of this medication, it is advised for women to stop breastfeeding during treatment with nivolumab.

Nivolumab Usage

Receive nivolumab exactly as prescribed.

Nivolumab comes in an injection and is given directly into a vein (IV) by a healthcare professional over 60 minutes and is administered every 2 weeks.

When used in combination with ipilimumab, nivolumab is usually given every 3 weeks, for a total of 4 doses. Ipilimumab will be given on the same day. After that, nivolumab will be given alone every 2 weeks.

Your healthcare provider will decide how many treatments you need.

Your healthcare provider will do blood tests to check you for side effects.

If you miss any appointments call your healthcare provider as soon as possible to reschedule your appointment.

Nivolumab Dosage

Take this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully.

The dose your doctor recommends may be based on the following:

  • the condition being treated
  • other medical conditions you have
  • other medications you are taking
  • how you respond to this medication
  • your weight

The recommended dose of Opdivo (nivolumab) for skin cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, advanced kidney cancer, advanced bladder cancer, advanced colorectal cancer, and liver cancer (hepatocelullar carcinoma) is 240 mg every two weeks.

When treating in combination with ipilimumab when treating skin cancer, the recommended dose is 1 mg/kg, followed by ipilimumab on the same day, every 3 weeks for 4 doses, then Opdivo 240 mg every 2 weeks.

The recommended dose of Opdivo (nivolumab) for classical Hodgkin lymphoma is 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks. 

The recommended dose of Opdivo (nivolumab) for head and neck cancer is 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks.

Nivolumab Overdose

If nivolumab is administered by a healthcare provider in a medical setting, it is unlikely that an overdose will occur. However, if an overdose is suspected, seek emergency medical attention.