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Ipilimumab (Yervoy)

Find out what ipilimumab is, how you have it and other important information about taking ipilimumab.

Ipilimumab (also called by it's brand name Yervoy) is a type of targeted cancer drug called a monoclonal antibody. This type of treatment helps the body's natural defence system (the immune system) to fight cancer cells.

You can have ipilimumab to treat:

  • advanced melanoma
  • other types of cancer (as part of clinical trials)

How ipilimumab works

Ipilimumab works by stimulating certain immune cells called T-cells. These cells help to flight cancer and other diseases. T-cells have a protein on their surface called CTLA-4. This protein tells the cell when to switch off. Ipilimumab blocks the CTLA-4 protein so that the T-cells stay switched on, and active to attack cancer cells.  

How you have it

You have ipilimumab as a drip into your bloodstream. It takes around 90 minutes each time you have it. To control the dose you have you might have it through a pump. 

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

When you have it

You usually have ipilimumab every 3 weeks. The dose you have depends on your weight. You can have up to 4 treatments. 

If you are having ipilimumab for melanoma you might have it with another drug called nivolumab. 

Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

Important information

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid contact with people who’ve had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines). This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s urine for up to 2 weeks and can make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.

You also need to avoid anyone who has had oral polio or typhoid vaccination recently.

Fertility

We don’t know how this treatment might affect fertility. You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Some men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Some women might be able to store eggs or embryos before treatment.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses or dentists that you’re having this drug if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.

Other medicines, foods and drink

Ipilimumab contains some salt. Before you start treatment tell your doctor if you are on a low salt (low sodium) diet.

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Changes in the areas of melanoma

During the first 4 months of treatments, the areas of melanoma on the skin may keep growing or new areas may appear. This doesn't mean that the treatment is not working. 

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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