Yervoy (ipilimumab) is a brand-name prescription medication. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain types of the following cancers in adults:

Yervoy is also approved to treat certain forms of melanoma and colorectal cancer in children ages 12 years and older.

Here are some fast facts about Yervoy:

  • Active ingredient: ipilimumab
  • Drug class: cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4)-blocking antibody
  • Drug form: solution in a vial, given as an IV infusion by a healthcare professional

In some cases, Yervoy may be prescribed as a long-term treatment. However, the drug is also given short term for as few as four doses. Your doctor can advise you on how long you might be given Yervoy.

Sometimes your doctor may recommend Yervoy alone to treat your cancer. In other cases, they may prescribe Yervoy in combination with additional medications.

Like other drugs, Yervoy can cause side effects. Read on to learn about potential common, mild, and serious side effects as well as Yervoy side effect management. For a general overview of Yervoy, including details about its uses, see this article.

These are just a few of the more common side effects reported by people who received Yervoy in clinical trials. These side effects can vary depending on which condition the drug is treating. They can also vary depending on whether you receive Yervoy alone or in combination with other medications.

More common side effects in people who received Yervoy alone in clinical trials included:

* For more information, see “Side effect specifics” below.

Mild side effects can occur with Yervoy. These side effects can vary depending on which condition the drug is treating. They can also vary depending on whether you receive Yervoy alone or in combination with other medications. This list doesn’t include all possible mild side effects of the drug. For more information, you can refer to Yervoy’s prescribing information.

Mild side effects in people who received Yervoy alone in clinical trials included:

These side effects may be temporary, lasting a few days to weeks. If the side effects last longer than that, bother you, or become severe, be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you develop a side effect during Yervoy treatment and want to tell the FDA about it, visit MedWatch.

* For more information, see “Side effect specifics” below.

Yervoy may cause serious side effects. These are less common than mild side effects. Serious side effects can vary depending on which condition the drug is treating. They can also vary depending on whether you receive Yervoy alone or in combination with other medications. The list below may not include all possible serious side effects of the drug. For more information, you can refer to Yervoy’s prescribing information.

If you develop serious side effects during Yervoy treatment, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

Serious side effects of Yervoy that have been reported in clinical trials and their symptoms include:

  • Infusion-related reaction. Symptoms can include:
    • itching or rash
    • dizziness
    • flushing (warmth, swelling, or deepening of skin color)
    • difficulty breathing
  • Hepatitis. Symptoms can include:
    • yellowing of the eyes or skin
    • abdominal pain
  • Skin reaction. Symptoms can include:
    • peeling of the skin
    • fever
  • Problems with hormones, such as thyroid problems. Symptoms can include:
    • fatigue
    • feeling hot or cold
    • weight gain or loss
    • fast or irregular heart rate
  • Type 1 diabetes. Symptoms can include:
    • feeling more thirsty than usual
    • urinating more often than usual
    • blurry vision
    • fatigue
  • Pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs). Symptoms can include:
    • difficulty breathing
    • weight loss
    • fatigue
  • Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). Symptoms can include:
    • swelling in your legs or feet
    • pain or burning sensation when urinating
    • vomiting
    • pain in your abdomen or pelvis
  • Colitis.*
  • Allergic reaction.*†

* For more information, see “Side effect specifics” below.
† An allergic reaction is possible after receiving Yervoy. However, this side effect wasn’t reported in clinical trials.

Yervoy may cause several side effects. Here are some frequently asked questions about the drug’s side effects and their answers.

What are the side effects when Yervoy and Opdivo are used together?

Many of the side effects you experience with Yervoy alone may also occur if you receive Yervoy in combination with nivolumab (Opdivo). Side effects of the medications when used together may include:

For more information about what to expect when receiving Yervoy and Opdivo, see this article. If you have additional questions about what to expect during treatment with both medications, talk with your doctor.

How long do Yervoy side effects last?

How long side effects from Yervoy last may depend on what condition you receive the drug for and the length of your treatment. Your body may adjust to some side effects, which may ease over time. Other side effects may be long term.

For example, you may have nausea or headache as side effects of Yervoy. Over time, your body may adjust to these side effects, and it’s possible to stop experiencing them. Other side effects may last after you stop Yervoy treatment. These can include type 1 diabetes, kidney problems, and hormone problems, such as thyroid disorders.

If you’re concerned about specific side effects of Yervoy, talk with your doctor. During your treatment, they may monitor your blood levels more frequently than usual. They can also advise you on symptoms to watch for while receiving Yervoy.

Learn more about some of the side effects that Yervoy may cause. To find out how often side effects occurred in clinical trials, see the prescribing information for Yervoy. You can also talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can tell you the percentages of people who developed certain side effects with Yervoy.

Skin rash

Skin rash may occur during Yervoy treatment. Skin rash was a common side effect reported in people taking this medication in clinical trials. In most cases, skin rashes were mild. However, it’s possible for you to develop a severe skin rash with Yervoy.

Symptoms of a mild skin rash due to Yervoy can include itchiness and flushing (warmth, swelling, or deepening of skin color).

Even though severe skin rashes due to Yervoy are rare, you should know their symptoms. These may include:

  • fever
  • peeling of the skin
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • blistering of the skin

What you can do

If you develop symptoms of a skin rash with Yervoy, be sure to talk with your doctor right away. In most cases, a skin rash can be easily treated with creams or ointments. However, sometimes a skin rash may be more serious and require antibiotics or other treatment. Your doctor will likely want to see you in their office so they can determine the severity of the rash. In serious cases, they may recommend that you go to the hospital.

Keep in mind that a skin rash can also be a symptom of an infusion-related reaction. Yervoy is given as an IV infusion. This is an injection into a vein over a period of time. Sometimes, reactions, such as skin rashes, can occur during or after receiving a Yervoy infusion. To learn more, see “Infusion-related reactions” in this article.

In addition, a skin rash can be a symptom of an allergic reaction. For more information, see “Allergic reaction” below.

Your doctor can help figure out the cause of your rash and the best treatment plan for you.

Colitis

It’s possible to develop colitis with Yervoy. This was a common side effect in people who received the drug in clinical trials. In some cases, colitis can be very severe or possibly life threatening.

Colitis occurs when there’s inflammation in the colon. It’s an immune system reaction that happens when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your colon. This can cause symptoms of colitis that may include:

What you can do

If you notice any symptoms of colitis during Yervoy treatment, be sure to talk with your doctor right away. They may recommend medication such as a corticosteroid. An example of a corticosteroid is prednisone (Rayos). In some cases, your doctor may pause your treatment with Yervoy until your symptoms ease.

If you have severe symptoms of colitis, your doctor may advise that you stop receiving Yervoy. In this case, they’ll likely recommend a different treatment plan.

Nausea

Nausea can occur with Yervoy. In fact, nausea was one of the most common side effects reported in people who received this medication in clinical trials.

What you can do

If you experience nausea during Yervoy treatment, talk with your doctor. They may be able to recommend ways to relieve it. For example, your doctor may suggest drinking ginger ale or eating ginger candy to calm your stomach. In other cases, your doctor may prescribe another medication in combination with Yervoy to help ease the nausea.

Muscle or bone pain

Muscle or bone pain can occur during Yervoy treatment. Muscle and bone pain were common side effects reported in people who received this medication in clinical trials. Some people also reported joint pain with Yervoy.

What you can do

If you experience muscle or bone pain during your treatment with Yervoy, talk with your doctor. In some cases, they may recommend an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Your doctor may also suggest certain creams, ointments, or even exercises to help ease muscle or bone pain.

Allergic reaction

As with most drugs, Yervoy can cause an allergic reaction in some people. However, this side effect was not reported in clinical trials.

Symptoms can be mild or serious and can include:

  • skin rash
  • itching
  • flushing
  • swelling under your skin, typically in your lips, eyelids, feet, or hands
  • swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe

What you can do

For mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, call your doctor right away. They may recommend ways to ease your symptoms and determine whether you should keep receiving Yervoy. However, if your symptoms are serious and you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about your health history before you receive Yervoy. This drug may not be the right treatment for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. The conditions and factors to consider include:

A certain stem cell transplant. Before you receive Yervoy, tell your doctor if you have had a hematopoietic stem cell transplant using donor cells. If you have, you may be at an increased risk of developing a serious condition called graft versus host disease during Yervoy treatment.

Graft versus host disease occurs when your body’s immune system attacks donor stem cells. This may cause your stem cell transplant to fail. Due to this risk, your doctor may monitor you more often than usual throughout your treatment with Yervoy. In some cases, they may recommend a treatment other than Yervoy.

Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Yervoy or any of its ingredients, your doctor will likely not prescribe Yervoy. Ask your doctor what other medications may be better options for you.

Autoimmune condition. Yervoy may cause your immune system to become more active than usual. If you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system may already be overactive. So receiving Yervoy may worsen your autoimmune condition. Examples of autoimmune conditions include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and lupus.

Before you start Yervoy treatment, it’s important to talk with your doctor about any autoimmune conditions you have. They can help determine if this medication is the right option for you.

Organ transplant. Before you start Yervoy treatment, tell your doctor about any organ transplants you have had. Yervoy may increase the activity of your immune system. This could cause your body to attack and reject the new organ. If you have had an organ transplant, your doctor can help determine if Yervoy is right for you.

Myasthenia gravis and other nervous system conditions. Yervoy may increase your risk of developing certain nervous system conditions, such as myasthenia gravis. If you already have a nervous system condition, Yervoy may make it worse. Talk with your doctor about whether Yervoy is a safe treatment for you.

Alcohol use with Yervoy

There are no known interactions between Yervoy and alcohol. However, drinking alcohol during Yervoy treatment may increase your risk of side effects. For example, both Yervoy and alcohol can cause nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. If you consume alcohol while receiving this medication, these side effects may be more likely to occur than usual.

In addition, Yervoy may increase your risk of a liver problem called hepatitis. Since alcohol can also damage your liver, drinking alcohol during Yervoy treatment may further increase your risk.

Talk with your doctor about how much alcohol, if any, may be safe for you to consume while you receive Yervoy.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding while taking Yervoy

Here’s some information about pregnancy, breastfeeding, and Yervoy.

Pregnancy. Due to the possible risk to a developing fetus, it is recommended that you do not receive Yervoy during pregnancy.

At this time, there have been no clinical trials involving pregnant people to determine what risks may occur. However, animal trials* showed an increased risk of premature delivery and pregnancy loss in animals given Yervoy during pregnancy.

If you’re able to become pregnant, your doctor will likely order a pregnancy test before you start Yervoy treatment. This is to confirm that you are not pregnant. Your doctor will also likely recommend that you use an effective form of birth control throughout your treatment with Yervoy. You should continue to use the birth control for at least 3 months after your last dose.

If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, your doctor can recommend cancer treatments other than Yervoy.

Breastfeeding. It’s recommended that you do not breastfeed during Yervoy treatment. You should also not breastfeed for at least 3 months after your last dose of medication.

These precautions are in place because it’s not known if Yervoy passes into breast milk. It’s also not known what effects the drug may have on a child who is breastfed. In animal trials,* Yervoy passed into the breast milk of pregnant animals who received the drug.

If you’re breastfeeding or thinking about it, talk with your doctor. They can advise you on healthy ways to feed your child and other cancer treatments.

* It’s important to note that animal trials do not always indicate what may happen in humans.

You may experience side effects while you receive Yervoy. In most cases, these side effects may be mild. However, sometimes side effects may be serious. If you develop side effects that are bothersome or severe, talk with your doctor.

If you’d like to learn more about Yervoy, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help answer any questions you have about side effects of the drug.

Besides talking with your doctor, you can do some research on your own. These articles might help:

Disclaimer: Medical News Today has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.