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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®)


Brand name: Keytruda®

Pembrolizumab is an immunotherapy used to treat advanced melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), head and neck squamous cell carcinoma and classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

Pembrolizumab is a type of monoclonal antibody known as a checkpoint inhibitor. T-cells carry on their surface a protein receptor called PD-1. Cancer cells are able to send a signal to PD-1 using the protein PD-L1, tricking the T-cell into thinking the cancer cell is normal. Pembrolizumab is designed to disrupt that signal and expose the cancer cell to an immune attack.

This medication is given intravenously over a 30-minute period, usually every three weeks. The dosage and frequency is based on how the cancer responds over time and the severity of side effects you may be experiencing.

Pembrolizumab side effects

Before taking pembrolizumab, tell your doctor if you have an auto-immune condition such as Crohn’s disease or lupus. Pembrolizumab travels through the bloodstream, so tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or plan to become pregnant. You should also inform your doctor about any drugs or nutritional supplements you are taking.

Because pembrolizumab is designed to trigger an immune response, T-cells may also attack healthy cells in addition to cancer cells, triggering an auto-immune reaction. Common side effects in melanoma patients treated with pembrolizumab include:

  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

 Common side effects in NSCLC patients treated with pembrolizumab include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), your care team will explain the side effects of pembrolizumab and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Pembrolizumab for cancer treatment

Pembrolizumab is used in the treatment of:

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), we approach cancer treatment on multiple fronts, attacking the cancer with innovative therapies while also helping you manage related side effects. We are committed to explaining your options and involving you throughout the treatment journey, so you and your family can make informed decisions about your care.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.