Decorative image

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)

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

Pembrolizumab (pronounced pem-bro-lee-zoo-mab) is also known by its brand name, Keytruda. 

It is a treatment for some people with:

  • non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • melanoma skin cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma

You might also have pembrolizumab as part of a clinical trials for another type of cancer. 

How it works

Pembrolizumab is a type of immunotherapy. It stimulates the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. 

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

How you have it

You have pembrolizumab as a drip into a vein (intravenously).

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 have the treatment over 30 minutes, every 3 weeks. You might have pembrolizumab for up to 2 years as long as it works and the side effects are not too bad.

Some people might have treatment for longer than 2 years.

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 4 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

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.

Breastfeeding

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

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

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

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.