Keytruda is a brand-name intravenous infusion prescribed for certain types of cancer. Keytruda contains the active ingredient pembrolizumab and is a type of immunotherapy.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Keytruda for use in adults to treat certain types of:

Keytruda is also FDA approved for use in certain children to treat specific types of skin cancer, lymphoma, and solid tumors.

For more details about Keytruda’s uses, see the “What is Keytruda used for?” section below.

Drug details

You’ll find key information about Keytruda below.

  • Drug class: programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) inhibitor, which is a type of immunotherapy
  • Drug form: intravenous (IV) infusion
  • Generic or biosimilar available? no
  • Prescription required? yes
  • Controlled substance? no
  • Year of FDA approval: 2014
  • Accelerated approval? yes, for certain types of solid tumors, stomach cancer, and a particular dosing regimen for lymphoma

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves prescription drugs such as Keytruda to treat certain conditions. Keytruda may also be used off-label for other conditions. Off-label drug use is when an FDA-approved drug is prescribed for a purpose other than what it’s approved for.

The sections below provide more detail about the kinds of cancers Keytruda is used to treat.

Keytruda for melanoma and other skin cancers

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat melanoma (a type of skin cancer) in adults and certain children.

Specifically, Keytruda is approved to treat melanoma that either:

  • cannot be surgically removed or
  • has become metastatic (has spread to other parts of the body)

The FDA has also approved Keytruda to help prevent melanoma from coming back in people who have had surgery to completely remove their cancer. This use applies to specific stages of melanoma: stage 2b, 2c, or 3.

With stage 2 melanoma, the tumor has grown within the skin but hasn’t spread. With stage 3 melanoma, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system. To learn more about melanoma’s stages, talk with your doctor.

Besides melanoma, Keytruda is FDA approved to treat the following types of skin cancer in adults and children:

  • Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC): For this use, the MCC must be recurrent (has returned after past treatment) and either locally advanced (has spread to nearby tissues) or metastatic.
  • Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC): For this use, the cSCC cannot be cured with surgery or radiation therapy. This use includes cSCC that is recurrent or has spread (is either locally advanced or metastatic).

To learn more about melanoma and other types of skin cancer, visit our hub for skin cancer.

Keytruda for lung cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat a form of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in adults. For this use, Keytruda may be prescribed with other drugs or by itself, depending on the type of NSCLC being treated.

Keytruda in combination with other lung cancer drugs

Keytruda is approved as a first treatment with carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol, Abraxane) for NSCLC that has both of the following characteristics:

  • squamous
  • metastatic

Squamous NSCLC starts in squamous cells in the lining of the airways.

Another approved use for Keytruda is as a first treatment with pemetrexed (Alimta) and platinum-based chemotherapy for NSCLC that has all of the following characteristics:

  • nonsquamous
  • metastatic
  • missing certain mutations (abnormal changes) in the EGFR or ALK gene

Platinum-based chemotherapy refers to chemotherapy drugs that contain the metal platinum. Examples include cisplatin and carboplatin. Nonsquamous NSCLC is cancer that did not start in the squamous cells of the lungs.

The drug is also approved to treat early stage NSCLC that can be surgically removed. For this use, Keytruda is given with platinum-based chemotherapy before the surgery to help shrink the tumor(s). Then Keytruda is given by itself after the surgery to help prevent the cancer from coming back.

Keytruda without other lung cancer drugs

Keytruda is approved for use alone as a first treatment for NSCLC that has high levels of a protein called PD-L1 and doesn’t have certain gene mutations. For this purpose, Keytruda is used if the cancer is:

  • metastatic (stage 4) or has spread within the chest (stage 3) and
  • cannot be removed by surgery or treated with chemotherapy and radiation

Keytruda may also be used by itself to treat metastatic NSCLC that has all of the following characteristics:

  • high levels of PD-L1
  • worsened during or after treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy
  • worsened after treatment with other cancer medications approved to treat NSCLC with EGFR or ALK gene mutations if the cancer has these mutations

Keytruda may also be used alone to help prevent NSCLC from coming back in people who have had surgery to remove their cancer and received treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy. This use applies to specific stages of NSCLC: stage 1b, 2, or 3a.

With stage 1b and stage 2 NSCLC, the cancer has not spread beyond the lung. With stage 3a NSCLC, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the chest. (To learn more about the stages of NSCLC, see this article or talk with your doctor.)

To learn more about lung cancer, visit our hub for lung cancer.

Keytruda for head and neck cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat head and neck cancer in adults. Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). This type of cancer starts in squamous cells in the lining of mucous membranes in the head or neck.

For this use, Keytruda may be prescribed with other drugs or by itself, as described just below.

Keytruda in combination with other head and neck cancer drugs

Keytruda is approved as a first treatment with fluorouracil and platinum-based chemotherapy for HNSCC. The HNSCC must be either:

  • recurrent and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

Keytruda without other head and neck cancer drugs

Keytruda is approved for use by itself as a first treatment for HNSCC that has high levels of the protein PD-L1. The HNSCC must be either:

  • recurrent and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

The FDA has also approved Keytruda for use by itself to treat HNSCC that’s metastatic or recurrent. For this purpose, Keytruda is given to people whose cancer worsened during or after treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy.

To learn more about this cancer, refer to our list of head and neck cancer articles.

Keytruda for lymphoma

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat certain types of lymphoma in adults and children. Lymphomas are cancers that start in white blood cells and affect the lymphatic system.

Keytruda may be used to treat certain types of lymphomas called Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Keytruda for Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma (CHL). In adults, this use includes CHL that’s either:

  • refractory (hasn’t responded to past treatments) or
  • relapsed (returned after a period of having no signs or symptoms of the disease)

In children, this use includes CHL that is refractory or has relapsed after two or more treatments.

Keytruda for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Keytruda is also approved to treat a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL). Keytruda is used to treat PMBCL that is refractory or has relapsed after two or more treatments.

Note that Keytruda isn’t recommended for treating PMBCL in people who need urgent cytoreductive therapy (treatments that lower the number of blood cells in the body).

To learn more about this type of cancer, refer to our list of lymphoma articles.

Keytruda for bladder cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat a type of bladder cancer called urothelial carcinoma in adults. This type of cancer starts in the urothelial cells, which are cells that line the inside of the bladder. For this purpose, Keytruda may be prescribed by itself or with another drug, depending on the circumstances.

Keytruda in combination with other bladder cancer drugs

Keytruda is approved for use along with enfortumab vedotin-ejfv (Padcev) to treat bladder cancer that’s either locally advanced or metastatic.

Keytruda without other bladder cancer drugs

Keytruda is also approved for use by itself to treat bladder cancer that’s locally advanced or metastatic. The cancer either:

  • cannot be treated with platinum-based chemotherapy or
  • worsened during or after treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy

Additionally, Keytruda is used alone to treat a form of bladder cancer called non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) that doesn’t respond to certain treatments. For this use, Keytruda is given to people who have chosen not to have surgery or who cannot have surgery for their cancer.

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for certain solid tumors

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat solid tumors with certain gene mutations in adults and children. Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat solid tumors that have the microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) mutation or the mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) mutation.

Additionally, Keytruda is used to treat solid tumors that are considered tumor mutational burden-high (TMB-H). This cancer has a higher number of certain gene mutations. (For this use, the FDA granted Keytruda accelerated approval based on information from early clinical trials. The FDA may grant full approval for this use after completion of additional clinical trials.)

For these types of solid tumors, Keytruda may be used if the cancer has all of the following characteristics:

  • is metastatic or cannot be surgically removed
  • worsened after using other treatments
  • has no other treatment options available

Note that the FDA has not approved Keytruda to treat certain cancers of the central nervous system in children. These include cancers of the brain or spinal cord that have TMB-H genetic mutations.

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for colorectal cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat colorectal cancer (CRC) in adults. CRC is cancer that starts in the colon (large intestine) or rectum. Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat CRC that has both of the following characteristics:

  • is metastatic or cannot be surgically removed
  • has certain gene mutations including the MSI-H mutation or the dMMR mutation

To learn more about this cancer, refer to our list of colorectal cancer articles.

Keytruda for stomach cancer

Keytruda is FDA approved to treat certain types of stomach cancer in adults. This includes cancer that starts in the stomach (gastric cancer) or the gastroesophageal junction (where your stomach and esophagus meet).

For these types of cancer, Keytruda is prescribed along with certain other medications. These may include:

  • trastuzumab (Herceptin, Herzuma, others)
  • platinum-based chemotherapy, such as cisplatin or carboplatin
  • chemotherapy that contains a fluoropyrimidine, such as capecitabine (Xeloda) or fluorouracil

Specifically, Keytruda may be used to treat HER2-negative or HER2-positive stomach cancer in certain situations.

HER2 is a protein found on some types of cancer cells. HER2-negative means the cancer cells do not have high amounts of HER2 protein, whereas HER2-positive cancer cells do. Your doctor may test the HER2 status of your cancer to help determine suitable treatment options for you.

Keytruda for HER2-negative stomach cancer

Keytruda is approved as a first treatment for HER2-negative stomach cancer that’s either:

  • locally advanced and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

Keytruda for HER2-positive stomach cancer

The FDA has also approved Keytruda as a first treatment for HER2-positive stomach cancer that has high levels of the protein PD-L1 and is either:

  • locally advanced and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

For treating this type of HER2-positive stomach cancer, the FDA granted Keytruda accelerated approval based on information from early clinical trials. The FDA may grant full approval for this use after completion of additional clinical trials.

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for esophageal cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat esophageal cancer in adults. This cancer starts in or just above the esophagus (the part of the digestive tract that connects your mouth to your stomach.)

Keytruda is used to treat esophageal cancer that:

  • is either locally advanced or metastatic and
  • cannot be cured using surgery or chemotherapy with radiation

For this purpose, Keytruda may be prescribed in combination with certain chemotherapy drugs. Or Keytruda may be prescribed by itself if your esophageal cancer has all of the following characteristics:

  • has been previously treated with one or more systemic treatments (treatments that affect your whole body)
  • has high levels of the protein PD-L1
  • is squamous, meaning it started in squamous cells in the lining of your esophagus

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for cervical cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat cervical cancer in adults. This cancer starts in the cervix. For this purpose, Keytruda may be used with other treatments or by itself.

Keytruda in combination with other cervical cancer treatments

Keytruda is approved for use in combination with chemotherapy and radiation for specific stages of cervical cancer: stage 3 to 4a.

With stage 3 cervical cancer, the cancer has spread from the cervix into the vagina, and possibly the pelvic wall or nearby lymph nodes. This stage may also include kidney problems. With stage 4a, the cancer has spread to organs in the pelvis, such as the bladder or rectum. (To learn more about the stages of cervical cancer, see this article or talk with your doctor.)

The FDA has also approved Keytruda for use in combination with chemotherapy, with or without bevacizumab (Avastin), to treat cervical cancer that has high levels of the protein PD-L1 and is any of the following:

  • persistent (hasn’t responded to past treatment)
  • recurrent
  • metastatic

Keytruda without other cervical cancer treatments

Additionally, Keytruda may be prescribed by itself if your cervical cancer has all of the following characteristics:

  • is recurrent or metastatic
  • worsened during or after past treatment with chemotherapy
  • has high levels of PD-L1

To learn more about this type of cancer, refer to our list of cervical cancer/HPV articles.

Keytruda for liver cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat liver cancer in adults. Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) due to hepatitis B.

For this purpose, Keytruda is used for HCC that’s been previously treated. However, the past treatments did not include a medication that blocks the proteins PD-1 or PD-L1.

To learn more about this type of cancer, refer to our list of liver cancer articles.

Keytruda for biliary tract cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat biliary tract cancer (BTC) in adults. BTC includes cancer that starts in the gallbladder or bile duct.

Specifically, Keytruda is approved in combination with gemcitabine and cisplatin to treat BTC. For this purpose, the BTC must be either:

  • locally advanced and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for kidney cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat a form of kidney cancer called renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in adults.

Keytruda is used in combination with either axitinib (Inlyta) or lenvatinib (Lenvima) as the first treatment for advanced RCC. With advanced RCC, the cancer has spread out of the kidneys or cannot be surgically removed.

Keytruda is also used for RCC that’s been surgically removed. In this case, Keytruda is given by itself after the surgery to help lower the risk of the cancer coming back.

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for endometrial cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat endometrial cancer in adults. This cancer starts in the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus.

Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat endometrial cancer that has all of the following characteristics:

  • is advanced, which means that cancer has spread out of the uterus
  • cannot be cured using surgery or radiation therapy
  • worsened during or after past systemic treatment

Keytruda may be used by itself for this purpose if the cancer has certain gene mutations. These include an MSI-H mutation or a dMMR mutation.

If the cancer does not have these gene mutations, Keytruda is prescribed in combination with lenvatinib (Lenvima).

To learn more about cancer, visit our cancer hub.

Keytruda for breast cancer

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat a certain type of breast cancer in adults. Specifically, Keytruda is used to treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in certain situations.

Keytruda is used in combination with chemotherapy to treat TNBC that has high levels of the protein PD-L1 and is either:

  • locally recurrent (has come back at or near the same spot in the breast where the cancer first started) and cannot be surgically removed or
  • metastatic

Keytruda is also approved for early stage TNBC that can be surgically removed. For this use, Keytruda is given with chemotherapy before the surgery to help shrink the tumor(s). Then Keytruda is given by itself after the surgery to help prevent the cancer from coming back.

To learn more about this condition, visit our hub for breast cancer.

Keytruda and children

The FDA has approved Keytruda to treat the following types of cancer in children:

  • melanoma in children ages 12 years and older
  • classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cHL) in children of all ages
  • primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL) in children of all ages
  • Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) in children of all ages
  • solid tumors with certain gene mutations in children of all ages

To learn more about Keytruda’s uses for these types of cancer, see the descriptions in the “What is Keytruda used for?” section above.

Keytruda is available only as a brand-name medication. It’s not currently available in a biosimilar version.

A biosimilar is a drug that’s similar to a brand-name biologic drug, referred to as the reference drug. Keytruda is a biologic medication, which is also called a biologic.

Biologic drugs are made from living cells. It’s not possible to copy these drugs exactly. A generic medication, on the other hand, refers to drugs made from chemicals. A generic is an exact copy of the active ingredient in a brand-name medication. Biosimilars are considered to be just as safe and effective as the reference drug. And like generics, biosimilars tend to cost less than brand-name medications.

Keytruda can cause mild or serious side effects. The following lists contain some of the key side effects that may occur while taking Keytruda. These lists do not include all possible side effects.

For more information about the possible side effects of Keytruda, see this article. You can also talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can give you tips on how to manage any side effects that may be concerning or bothersome.

Note: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks side effects of drugs it has approved. If you would like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with Keytruda, you can do so through MedWatch.

Mild side effects

Below is a partial list of mild side effects of Keytruda. To learn about other mild side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist, or view Keytruda’s prescribing information. Keytruda’s side effects may be different when used in combination with chemotherapy or other anticancer medications.

Mild side effects of Keytruda can include:

Most of these side effects may go away within a few days to a couple of weeks. However, if they become more severe or don’t go away, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious side effects

Serious side effects from Keytruda aren’t common, but they can occur. Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 911 or your local emergency number if your symptoms feel life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Serious side effects and their symptoms can include:

  • Colitis (inflammation in your colon) that’s caused by an immune system reaction. Symptoms can include:
    • bloating or cramping in your abdomen
    • diarrhea
    • fever
  • Hepatitis (inflammation in your liver) or liver damage that’s caused by an immune system reaction. Signs and symptoms can include:
    • pain in the upper right of your abdomen
    • itchy skin
    • jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes)
    • nausea or vomiting
  • Hormone disorders, including hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone level), that are caused by an immune system reaction. Symptoms can include:
    • fatigue
    • depression
    • dry skin
    • constipation
    • muscle weakness
    • hyperglycemia (high blood sugar level)
  • Nephritis (inflammation in your kidneys) that’s caused by an immune system reaction. Symptoms can include:
    • urinating more often than usual
    • burning sensation when you’re urinating
    • pain in your pelvis
    • cloudy or bloody urine
    • fever
    • swelling, which commonly occurs in your feet, legs, and face
  • Infusion reaction (an immune system reaction that happens during or shortly after receiving a drug infusion). Symptoms can include:
  • Pneumonitis (inflammation in your lungs). Symptoms may include:
    • headache
    • fever and chills
    • muscle aches
    • tightness in your chest
    • dry cough

Side effects in children

The side effects of Keytruda seen in children are similar to those seen in adults.

However, in clinical trials, certain Keytruda side effects occurred more frequently in children than in adults. Examples include fever, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain.

If your child is prescribed Keytruda, their doctor can tell you about what side effects your child might experience.

ALLERGIC REACTION

Keytruda can cause an allergic reaction in some people. This side effect occurred in the drug’s clinical trials.

In general, symptoms of allergic reaction can be mild or serious. You can learn more about possible symptoms in this article.

Ways to manage

For mild allergic reaction symptoms, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may recommend treatments to help manage your symptoms. They’ll also let you know whether you should keep taking the medication.

For severe allergic reaction symptoms, such as trouble breathing or severe skin reactions, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms require immediate medical care because they can become life threatening. If you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to Keytruda, your doctor may recommend taking a different medication instead.

As with all medications, the cost of Keytruda can vary. The actual price you’ll pay depends on your insurance plan, and your location.

Financial and insurance assistance: If you need financial support to pay for Keytruda, or if you need help understanding your insurance coverage, help is available.

A program called the Merck Access Program is available for Keytruda. For more information and to find out if you’re eligible for support, call 855-257-3932 or visit the program website.

Generic or biosimilar version: Keytruda is a brand-name medication. It’s not available in a generic or biosimilar version. Biosimilars tend to cost less than brand-name medications. (See the “Keytruda generic or biosimilar” section to learn more.)

For more information about Keytruda and cost, see this article. To learn more about saving money on prescriptions, check out this article.

If you’re interested in finding an alternative to Keytruda, talk with your doctor. They can tell you about other medications that may work well for you.

The following drugs are similar to Keytruda:

  • alemtuzumab (Campath)
  • atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • avelumab (Bavencio)
  • bevacizumab (Avastin, Mvasi, others)
  • cemiplimab-rwlc (Libtayo)
  • cetuximab (Erbitux)
  • dostarlimab-gxly (Jemperli)
  • durvalumab (Imfinzi)
  • ipilimumab (Yervoy)
  • nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • nivolumab/relatlimab (Opdualag)
  • retifanlimab-dlwr (Zynyz)
  • tislelizumab-jsgr (Tevimbra)
  • trastuzumab (Herceptin, Herzuma, others)

Note: A four-letter suffix appears at the end of some of the drug names above to distinguish the drugs from current or future biosimilar versions. To learn about biosimilar drugs, see the “Keytruda generic or biosimilar” section above.

You may wonder how Keytruda compares with other medications that are prescribed for similar uses. To find out how Keytruda compares to Opdivo, see this article.

Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Tecentriq (atezolizumab) are similar medications used for various kinds of cancer. Keytruda has more uses than Tecentriq. Keytruda is currently approved to treat more than 15 types of cancer, while Tecentriq is approved to treat 5 types of cancer.

Some of their uses overlap, while others are different. Both Keytruda and Tecentriq are approved to treat the following cancers in certain situations:

Keytruda and Tecentriq are both given by intravenous (IV) infusion by healthcare professionals. With an IV infusion, the drug is given into your vein over a period of time. Keytruda and Tecentriq infusions typically last about 30 minutes. But Tecentriq infusions may last up to 60 minutes.

Talk with your doctor for more information about how Keytruda compares to Tecentriq or other medications with similar uses.

You may wonder how Keytruda compares with other medications that are prescribed for similar uses. To find out how Keytruda compares to Imfinzi, see this article.

The Keytruda dosage your doctor prescribes will depend on several factors. These include:

  • the type of cancer they’ve prescribed Keytruda to treat
  • your age
  • body weight (children)

The following information describes dosages that are commonly used or recommended. Your doctor will determine the best dosage to fit your needs.

For additional details on Keytruda’s dosages, see this article.

Drug forms and strengths

Keytruda comes as a liquid solution in vials. It’s available in one strength: 100 milligrams in 4 milliliters of solution (25 mg/mL).

Dosage for adults

The recommended dosage of Keytruda in adults is either 200 mg once every 3 weeks or 400 mg once every 6 weeks.

Children’s dosage

The dosage of Keytruda in children is based on body weight in kilograms (kg). One kg equals about 2.2 pounds (lb).

The recommended dosage is 2 mg/kg once every 3 weeks.

For example, a child who weighs 23 kg (about 50 lb) would receive 46 mg of Keytruda in each dose.

The maximum dose of Keytruda for children is 200 mg.

How it’s given

Keytruda is administered by a healthcare professional as an intravenous (IV) infusion. With an IV infusion, the drug is given into your vein over a period of time. Keytruda infusions typically last about 30 minutes.

About taking Keytruda

Below, you’ll find information about key dosage issues.

  • If you miss a dose: If you forget or miss your appointment for a Keytruda infusion, call your doctor’s office right away. They will help you reschedule your appointment.
  • Length of use: Keytruda is meant to be used as a long-term treatment. If you and your doctor determine that Keytruda is safe and effective for you, you’ll likely receive it long term.
  • Length of time to work: Keytruda starts working soon after you receive your first dose. But it isn’t clear exactly how long it takes to work. This is because the medication is meant to help prevent your cancer from growing. Talk with your doctor to determine how often you’ll need tests or scans to check your treatment progress.

Keytruda is not known to interact with other medications, herbs, supplements, foods, or alcohol. The manufacturer did not list any interactions in Keytruda’s prescribing information.

However, this doesn’t mean that interactions won’t be recognized in the future. For example, new drugs could be approved that interact with Keytruda.

Before starting Keytruda treatment, talk with your doctor and pharmacist. Tell them about all prescription, over-the-counter, and other drugs you take. Also, tell them about any vitamins, herbs, and supplements you take. Sharing this information can help you avoid potential interactions.

If you have questions about drug interactions that may affect you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

If you can become pregnant, consider the following information about pregnancy, fertility, birth control, and breastfeeding.

Keytruda and pregnancy

It’s not known whether Keytruda is safe to receive while pregnant. It’s possible that Keytruda may cause fetal harm if received during pregnancy.

If you can become pregnant, your doctor may have you take a pregnancy test before you start Keytruda. This is done to confirm you aren’t pregnant.

If you’re planning a pregnancy or can become pregnant, talk with your doctor before receiving this medication. Your doctor may suggest birth control options to use during your treatment with Keytruda.

Keytruda and birth control

It’s not known whether Keytruda is safe to receive during pregnancy. If you’re sexually active and you or your partner can become pregnant, talk with your doctor about your birth control needs during your treatment with Keytruda.

Note: Sex and gender exist on spectrums. Use of the term “female” and “male” in this article refers to sex assigned at birth.

For females using Keytruda

If you’re sexually active and can become pregnant, your doctor will recommend using birth control during treatment with Keytruda and for 4 months after treatment ends.

For males using Keytruda

The manufacturer of Keytruda hasn’t stated whether males receiving Keytruda need to use birth control. If you’re sexually active and your partner can become pregnant, talk with your doctor about your birth control needs during Keytruda treatment.

Keytruda and breastfeeding

Keytruda should not be received while breastfeeding. If you’re currently breastfeeding or planning to do so, talk with your doctor before receiving this medication. Your doctor may recommend other ways to feed your child during treatment with Keytruda and for 4 months after treatment ends.

Keytruda comes with several precautions. Before starting Keytruda, talk with your doctor about your health history. This medication may not be right for you if certain conditions or factors apply to you. These include:

Note: For more information about the potential negative effects of Keytruda, see the “Keytruda side effects” section above.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Keytruda.

How much longer will I live if I receive Keytruda?

That depends on several factors. The success rate of Keytruda varies based on the type and stage of your cancer, your age, and your overall health.

In clinical trials, Keytruda was shown to be an effective treatment for many different types of cancer. During these studies, people receiving Keytruda lived several months longer than people taking either other cancer treatments or a placebo (treatment with no active ingredient).

Talk with your doctor about what to expect with Keytruda. You can also visit this website to learn more about the results of Keytruda’s clinical trials.

How are immunotherapy and chemotherapy different?

Immunotherapy drugs, such as Keytruda, work by helping your immune system fight diseases. This includes diseases such as cancer. Immunotherapy drugs may do this by boosting your immune system so that it recognizes and attacks cancer cells. The drugs may also work by increasing the level of immune system proteins in your body.

Immunotherapy drugs are a type of targeted treatment. They’re often designed to target (work on) certain types of cancers with very specific gene mutations (abnormal changes). This makes immunotherapy drugs more selective in how they work.

On the other hand, chemotherapy (traditional drugs used to treat cancer) works by stopping cells in your body from dividing. (Cells that are dividing are making more cells.)

However, chemotherapy drugs aren’t made to target only cells with specific gene mutations. Instead, chemotherapy works on most of the quickly dividing cells in your body. This includes both cancer cells and some healthy cells. Chemotherapy doesn’t just work on cancer cells.

Depending on your cancer type, your doctor may prescribe Keytruda in combination with chemotherapy or other cancer medications. This is because the combination treatment in general is more effective than the individual treatments alone.

How does Keytruda work?

Keytruda belongs to a group of drugs called programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) inhibitors. It’s also a type of immunotherapy. This means that it helps your immune system attack cancer cells.

Keytruda works by inhibiting (blocking) the activity of an immune system protein called PD-L1. It’s also known as a checkpoint protein.

This checkpoint protein attaches to PD-1 receptors (attachment sites). PD-1 receptors are found on cancer cells and healthy cells.

When PD-L1 attaches to PD-1 receptors, this signals certain immune system cells called T cells to stop attacking “invaders.” (Cancer cells are an example of cells that your body sees as invaders.) The action of PD-1 receptors allows cancer cells in your body to continue to grow without being attacked.

Some cancer cells have higher levels of PD-1. The extra PD-1 receptors help the cancer cells to survive without being attacked by your immune system’s T cells.

Keytruda attaches to PD-1 receptors so that PD-L1 proteins cannot attach to them. By blocking the action of PD-L1, Keytruda lets your T cells continue attacking cancer cells. This boost in immune system function is meant to prevent your cancer from growing and spreading.

How long does Keytruda stay in your system after stopping treatment?

Keytruda stays in your system for up to 4 months after your last dose.

Keytruda has a half-life of 22 days. This means it takes 22 days for your body to clear half a dose of Keytruda.

Due to the long-acting effects of Keytruda, there are certain precautions to keep in mind after treatment ends. If you can become pregnant, it’s recommended to use birth control for 4 months after your last dose. It’s also recommended to avoid breastfeeding for 4 months after your last dose. (For more information about this, see the “Things to consider when taking Keytruda” section above.)

If you have questions about what to expect after stopping Keytruda, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

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.

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