Pembrolizumab - Uses - Dosages - Side Effects - Precautions

Pembrolizumab: Frequently Asked Questions Answered

What is Pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is an antibody widely available under the brand name Keytruda. It is used to treat several forms of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, stomach cancer, and cervical cancer.

Pembrolizumab is given as an intravenous (IV) infusion. It features on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. 

The drug is often given when cancer cannot be treated with surgery or radiation or spread to other body parts.

What are the uses of Pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is used in the treatment of: 

  • Metastatic or recurrent cervical cancer, particularly in cases where tumors indicate PD-L1 as determined by an FDA-approved test. 
  • Patients in whom cancer has progressed following or before chemotherapy.
  • Recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). 
  • Adult and pediatric patients with refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) or those who have relapsed after prior lines of therapy.
  • Patients who have hepatocellular cancer (HCC) and who have been previously treated with Sorafenib.
Book Doctor Appointment
Book Online Doctor Appointment
Search Specialty Doctor
Health Packages

What are the side effects of Pembrolizumab?

Most people do not experience any side effects. However, 30% of patients taking Pembrolizumab may experience the following side effects:

  •         Anemia
  •         Fatigue
  •         Hyperglycemia
  •         Hyponatremia
  •         Hypoalbuminemia
  •         Itching
  •         Cough
  •         Nausea

The relatively rarer side effects observed in between ~10-30% of patients receiving Pembrolizumab are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Arthralgia
  • Back pain
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Hypertriglyceridemia
  • Headache
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Increased liver enzymes
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Pain in extremity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Myalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Vitiligo
  • Upper respiratory tract infection


Frequently Asked Questions about Pembrolizumab

1. How many cycles of Pembrolizumab?

Adults: 4-6 cycles

200 mg of Pembrolizumab is administered intravenously over 30 minutes every three weeks or 400 mg every six weeks. The dose is administered intravenously over 30 minutes.

2. Pediatric patients: 3 cycles

2 mg/kg body weight of Pembrolizumab is given to children aged three years and older with cHL during each cycle. The dose is administered intravenously over 30 minutes.
The doctor will decide the treatment schedule depending on the disease progression or its unacceptable toxicity.

3. Is Pembrolizumab better than Nivolumab?

Pembrolizumab and Nivolumab belong to the same class of drugs – Programmed Death receptor-1 (PD-1) blocking antibodies. While both drugs demonstrate similar benefits, cancer treatment is always individual. The choice of the drug depends on various factors such as the cancer type, age, genetic markers, other treatments the patient is receiving, medical condition, etc.

4. Is Pembrolizumab a Chemotherapy?

Pembrolizumab is a targeted drug therapy that works by helping the immune system block the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body. Hence, it is not chemotherapy but immunotherapy.

5. What class of drug is Pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab belongs to the drug class of Antineoplastics, Monoclonal Antibody; PD-1/PD-L1 Inhibitors.

6. Does Pembrolizumab cause hair loss?

Hair loss is a common side effect in patients receiving Pembrolizumab treatment. However, this side effect is temporary, and hair starts growing back.

7. How quickly does Pembrolizumab work?

The response to the Pembrolizumab is typically seen within 2-4 months of starting the treatment. However, the time it takes to work well will vary depending on the type & stage of the disease.
Pembrolizumab works by blocking the activity of PD-1 that prevents T cells from recognizing and attacking cancer cells. By blocking PD-1, the drug increases the ability of the immune system to attack tumors and melanoma cells.

8. Is Pembrolizumab effective?

Pembrolizumab is effective in treating various forms of cancer. It is used as a first-line treatment combined with chemotherapy drugs for metastatic, non-squamous NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) and metastatic squamous NSCLC.

The drug can also be used on its own in the treatment of certain types of NSCLC where patients can’t receive a surgical treatment or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

9. Is Pembrolizumab oral?

Pembrolizumab is not an oral drug. It is administered to patients intravenously (into a blood vein).

10. Is Pembrolizumab a Keytruda?

Yes, Pembrolizumab is a Keytruda. It is the generic name for the trade drug name Keytruda®.

11. Can a pregnant woman take Pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is not recommended to be used during pregnancy unless the woman’s clinical condition requires the treatment with Pembrolizumab.

12. Can I take Pembrolizumab while breastfeeding?

Since antibodies can be secreted in human milk, a decision should be made whether a woman should continue breastfeeding with Pembrolizumab therapy.

If you or any of your dear ones are undergoing cancer treatment that includes usage of Pembrolizumab or other therapies, and need medical treatment for other conditions, it is essential to talk to a relevant physician for the same. Get in touch with our expert doctors at the Yashoda Group of Hospitals if you need advice on cancer treatment or other medical conditions.

Get Free Second Opinion

Disclaimer: The information provided herein is accurate, updated and complete as per the best practices of the Company. Please note that this information should not be treated as a replacement for physical medical consultation or advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy and the completeness of the information so provided. The absence of any information and/or warning to any drug shall not be considered and assumed as an implied assurance of the Company. We do not take any responsibility for the consequences arising out of the aforementioned information and strongly recommend you for a physical consultation in case of any queries or doubts.