Pembrolizumab treats melanoma, advanced non-small cell lung cancer, and recurrent or advanced head and neck cancer. Pembrolizumab is an injection given by a healthcare professional.
Pembrolizumab is a prescription medication used to treat advanced melanoma, advanced non-small cell lung cancer, or recurrent or metastatic (advanced) head and neck cancer.
Pembrolizumab belongs to a group of drugs called PD-1 Blockers. These help the body's immune system fight cancer.
Pembrolizumab is available in an injectable form to be given directly into a vein (IV) every three weeks by a healthcare professional.
Common side effects of pembrolizumab include fatigue, cough, nausea, itchy skin, and rash.
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Uses of Pembrolizumab
Pembrolizumab is a prescription medication used to treat:
a kind of skin cancer called melanoma. Pembrolizumab may be used when your melanoma:
- has spread or cannot be removed by surgery (advanced melanoma) and,
- after you have tried a medicine call ipilimumab and it did not work or is no longer working and,
- if your tumor has an abnormal “BRAF” gene, and you also have tried a different medicine called a BRAF inhibitor, and it did not work or is no longer working.
• a kind of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer. Pembrolizumab may be used when your lung cancer:
- has spread and has tested positive for “PD-L1” (no prior chemotherapy and with tumors with normal EGFR or ALK genes)
- has spread and you have tried chemotherapy that contains platinum, and it did not work or is no longer working
For those with a tumor that has an abnormal “EGFR” or “ALK” gene, pembrolizumab can be given if you have already tried a medication for tumors with these abnormal genes.
• recurrent or metastatic (advanced) head and neck cancer otherwise known as head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Keytruda may be used when your head and neck cancer:
- continues to progress during or after platinum-containing chemotherapy
This medication may be prescribed for other uses. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
Pembrolizumab Brand Names
Pembrolizumab may be found in some form under the following brand names:
Pembrolizumab Drug Class
Pembrolizumab is part of the drug class:
Side Effects of Pembrolizumab
Serious side effects have been reported with pembrolizumab. See the “Pembrolizumab Precautions” section.
Common side effects of pembrolizumab include the following:
- itchy skin
- decreased appetite
- joint pain
This is not a complete list of pembrolizumab 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.
No drug interactions have been conducted 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.
Serious side effects have been reported with pembrolizumab including:
- Infusion-related reactions. The doctor may need to stop treatment.
- Fetal harm. Pembrolizumab can cause harm to your unborn baby.
- Pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung tissue). Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of pneumonitis.
- new or worsening cough
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- Colitis. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of colitis.
- severe abdominal pain
- Hepatitis. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of hepatitis.
- severe nausea or vomiting
- easy bruising or bleeding
- Hypophysitis. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of hypophysitis.
- persistent or unusual headache
- extreme weakness
- dizziness or fainting
- vision changes
- Nephritis (inflammation of the kidney). Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of nephritis.
- swelling of the body (face, ankles, feet)
- decreased urine output
- changes in blood pressure
- Hyperthyroidism. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
- Increased sweating
- heat intolerance
- difficulty sleeping
- fast and irregular heartbeat
- goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid that may cause the neck to look swollen
- Hypothyroidism. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms of hypothyroidism.
- Hard stools or constipation
- Feeling cold
- Fatigue or weakness
- Paleness or dry skin
- Sadness or depression
- Thin, brittle hair or fingernails
- Weight gain
- Slower heart rate
Pembrolizumab 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 pembrolizumab, there are no specific foods that you must exclude from your diet when receiving this medication.
Before receiving pembrolizumab, tell your doctor about all of your medical conditions. Especially tell your doctor if you:
- are allergic to pembrolizumab or to any of its ingredients
- have kidney problems
- have liver problems
- have hepatitis
- have thyroid problems
- are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
- are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed
Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Pembrolizumab and Pregnancy
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
The FDA categorizes medications based on safety for use during pregnancy. Five categories - A, B, C, D, and X, are used to classify the possible risks to an unborn baby when a medication is taken during pregnancy.
Pembrolizumab falls into category D. Based on the mechanism of action of pembrolizumab, pembrolizumab may cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. Animal reproduction studies have not been done with pembrolizumab. Based on how this medication works, the potential risks of administering pembrolizumab during pregnancy includes an increased rates of abortion or still births.
Since pembrolizumab may cause fetal harm, women of child bearing age should use highly effective contraception during treatment with pembrolizumab and for at least 4 months after the last dose of pembrolizumab.
Pembrolizumab and Lactation
Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.
It is not known if pembrolizumab 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 use of this medication, a choice should be made whether to stop nursing or stop the use of this medication. Your doctor and you will decide if the benefits outweigh the risk of using pembrolizumab.
This medication is available in an injectable form to be given directly into a vein (IV) by a healthcare professional.
Your doctor may reduce the dose of pembrolizumab or even discontinue the medication if you experience certain adverse drug reactions.
If you miss a dose, be sure to make a follow up appointment.
Receive this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
The dose your doctor recommends may be based on the following:
- the condition being treated
- other medical conditions you have
- how you respond to this medication
- your weight
The recommended dose of Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the treatment of melanoma is 2 mg/kg over 30-minute infusion every 3 weeks.
The recommended dose of Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the treatment of patients with recurrent or advanced head and neck cancer is 200 mg over 30-minute infusion every 3 weeks.
Your doctor may reduce the dose if you experience certain adverse drug reactions.
If pembrolizumab is administered by a healthcare provider in a medical setting, it is unlikely that an overdose will occur. However, if overdose is suspected, seek emergency medical attention.
It is important you keep all scheduled appointments for blood work or other laboratory tests.