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Nivolumab (Opdivo)

Find out what nivolumab is, how you have it and other important information about having nivolumab.

Nivolumab is a cancer treatment drug and is also known by its brand name, Opdivo.

It is a treatment for several cancers including: 

  • advanced melanoma
  • advanced non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • advanced kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma)

Nivolumab is also used in clinical trials for other types of cancer.

How nivolumab works

Nivolumab is a type of immunotherapy. This type of treatment stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.

Nivolumab targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T-cells. Blocking PD-1 activates the T-cells to find and kill cancer cells.

How you have nivolumab

You have nivolumab through a drip into your bloodstream. You have it over 1 hour.  

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

Or 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 the whole time you are having treatment.

When you have it

You have the treatment every 2 weeks.

You usually carry on having nivolumab for as long as it works, unless it causes bad side effects.

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

Other medicines, foods and drink

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 drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 5 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

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

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, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

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.

More information about this treatment

We haven't listed all the very rare side effects of this treatment. For further information see the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have that isn’t listed here to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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