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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
  • advanced kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) with another drug called nivolumab
  • 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 fight 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 or hand. 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

You have blood tests before 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 up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

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

You can:

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

Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as oral polio or the typhoid vaccine.

This also includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s poo for up to 2 weeks and could 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 should also avoid close contact with children who have had the flu vaccine nasal spray if your immune system is severely weakened. 

Fertility

It is not known whether this treatment affects fertility in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

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 into 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're 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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