Keytruda Side Effects: What They Are and How to Manage Them – Healthline

By daniellenierenberg

If you have certain types of cancer, your doctor might suggest Keytruda (pembrolizumab) as a treatment option for you.

Keytruda is a prescription medication thats used to treat certain advanced forms of the following kinds of cancer in adults and some children:

Keytruda can also be used to treat these kinds of cancer in some children as well as adults:

Keytruda comes as a solution a healthcare professional injects into your vein over a period of time. This is called an intravenous infusion.

Keytruda is a biologic, which is a treatment made from parts of living organisms. It isnt available in a biosimilar form. Biosimilars are like generic drugs. But unlike generics, which are made for non-biologic drugs, biosimilars are made for biologic drugs.

For more information about Keytruda, including details about its uses, see this in-depth article on the drug.

Like other drugs, Keytruda can cause mild and serious side effects. Keep reading to learn more.

Some people may experience mild or serious side effects during their Keytruda treatment. These side effects can vary depending on whether Keytruda is used alone or with other cancer drugs.

Examples of Keytrudas commonly reported side effects include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see Side effects explained below.

Read on to learn about other possible side effects of Keytruda.

Keytruda may cause mild side effects. These side effects can vary depending on whether Keytruda is used alone or with other cancer drugs.

Examples of mild side effects that have been reported with Keytruda include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see Side effects explained below.

In most cases, these side effects should be temporary. And some may be easily managed, too. But if you have any symptoms that are ongoing or that bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And dont stop using Keytruda unless your doctor tells you to.

Keytruda may cause mild side effects other than the ones listed above. See the Keytruda medication guide for more information.

Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If youd like to notify the FDA about a side effect youve had with Keytruda, visit MedWatch.

Serious side effects may occur with Keytruda. These side effects can vary depending on whether Keytruda is used alone or with other cancer drugs.

Many of Keytrudas serious side effects happen because of an overactive immune system. These are called immune-mediated side effects, and they often cause inflammation (damage and swelling) to tissues. Examples include:

Other serious side effects that have been reported with Keytruda include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see Side effects explained below.

If you develop serious side effects while using Keytruda, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or if you think youre having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about Keytrudas side effects.

In most cases, Keytrudas side effects should be temporary. Most should go away soon after you start or stop the drug.

But Keytruda can cause serious side effects that may lead to long-term problems. In some cases, these problems can take many weeks or months to resolve. Here are some examples, all of which cause inflammation (damage and swelling) in different parts of the body:

If you have questions about what to expect long term while using Keytruda, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. But dont stop using Keytruda unless your doctor recommends it.

Yes, in rare cases, Keytruda may cause serious eye side effects (sometimes called ocular side effects).

Examples of eye problems that may happen while using Keytruda include:

Symptoms of eye side effects from Keytruda will depend on the exact eye problem you have. But possible symptoms that may happen with one or both eyes include:

Tell your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of eye problems while using Keytruda.

Keytruda is prescribed to treat many types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The side effects of Keytruda are expected to be the same regardless of the type of cancer its treating. For a full list of the cancers Keytruda is used to treat, see this in-depth article on the drug.

To learn more about possible side effects of Keytruda, see the What are the mild side effects of Keytruda? and What are the serious side effects of Keytruda? sections above.

If you have questions about what to expect when using Keytruda to treat lung cancer, talk with your doctor.

Yes, confusion is a possible side effect of Keytruda. In fact, confusion was a common side effect of Keytruda in studies of the drug.

Confusion can make you feel as though you cant think clearly. You may also have problems making decisions or focusing on a task. This side effect can also lead to abnormal or slurred speech.

Its important to remember that encephalitis (inflammation of your brain) may cause confusion. Encephalitis is a rare but serious side effect of Keytruda. For this reason, you should tell your doctor right away if you experience confusion while using Keytruda. Theyll likely check you for signs of encephalitis.

Learn more about some of the side effects Keytruda may cause.

Muscle pain or bone pain are common side effects of Keytruda.

You can relieve muscle or bone pain by:

Before using OTC drugs with Keytruda, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And ask your doctor about other ways to relieve bothersome muscle or bone pain that Keytruda may cause.

In rare cases, some people may have hair loss while using Keytruda. In studies, hair loss was more common when Keytruda was used with chemotherapy drugs than when used alone.

Hair loss as a side effect of Keytruda is usually temporary. If you have hair loss from using Keytruda, your hair should start growing back several weeks after your last dose.

Cooling caps, which are caps designed to keep your scalp cold, might help prevent hair loss. Cooling caps lessen the blood flow to your scalp, which may decrease the effect of Keytruda or chemotherapy on your hair. Ask your doctor if a cooling cap is right for you.

When your hair does start to return, dont overuse hair styling tools that are harsh on hair. These include blow dryers and hair straighteners. You should also avoid bleaching or coloring your hair so it stays healthy enough to grow.

If you experience bothersome hair loss while using Keytruda, talk with your doctor about ways to help with this side effect.

You may have itchy skin or rash from using Keytruda. Itchy skin and mild rashes are common side effects of the drug.

In rare cases, Keytruda may also cause severe rashes and other skin reactions. These include Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). With SJS and TEN, you have a rash along with painful sores on your eyes, genitals, mouth, or throat.

Here are a few tips for helping relieve itching and rash:

If you have a severe skin reaction to Keytruda, youll likely need treatment in a hospital. If you have severe skin peeling or blisters after using the drug, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These may be signs of a serious skin reaction, which can be life threatening.

If youre concerned about your risk for a severe skin reaction from using Keytruda, talk with your doctor.

Like most drugs, Keytruda can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Symptoms can be mild or serious and can include:

If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may suggest an over-the-counter antihistamine you can take by mouth, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or a product you can apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream, to manage your symptoms.

If your doctor confirms you had a mild allergic reaction to Keytruda, theyll decide if you should continue using it.

If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.

If your doctor confirms you had a serious allergic reaction to Keytruda, they may have you switch to a different treatment.

During your Keytruda treatment, consider keeping notes on any side effects youre having. Then, you can share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful to do when you first start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.

Your side effect notes can include things like:

Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help your doctor learn more about how Keytruda affects you. And your doctor can use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.

Keytruda is used to treat certain types of cancer in some children. (For information about the cancers Keytruda can treat in children, see this detailed article on the drug.)

Most side effects that occur in children receiving Keytruda are similar to those that adults experience. However, some side effects of Keytruda are more common in children. These include:

Talk with your childs doctor about their risk for side effects from Keytruda.

Keytruda may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Talk with your doctor about your health history before you take Keytruda. Factors to consider include those in the list below.

Allergic reaction. If youve had an allergic reaction to Keytruda or any of its ingredients, you shouldnt take Keytruda. Ask your doctor what other medications are better options for you.

Receiving certain other treatments for multiple myeloma. Using Keytruda with certain other treatments for multiple myeloma can be fatal. (Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.) Before using Keytruda, tell your doctor if youre taking any treatments for multiple myeloma.

Received an organ transplant. Before using Keytruda, tell your doctor if youve had an organ transplant. Keytruda can raise the risk for your immune system attacking the transplanted organ. If youve had a transplant, your doctor will tell you what symptoms of organ rejection you should watch for while using Keytruda.

Received or plan to receive a stem cell transplant. Before using Keytruda, tell your doctor if youve received stem cells from a donor in the past or plan to do so. You may be at a higher risk for graft-versus-host disease. This condition causes your immune system to attack the transplant stem cells. Talk with your doctor about whether Keytruda is safe for you to use.

It should be safe to drink alcohol while using Keytruda.

But be aware that alcohol can cause side effects that are similar to some of Keytrudas. These include diarrhea, fatigue (lack of energy), and nausea. If you drink alcohol during Keytruda treatment, it may make these side effects worse.

Talk with your doctor about the amount of alcohol thats safe for you to drink while using Keytruda.

You shouldnt use Keytruda while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Keytruda hasnt been studied during pregnancy. But based on how the drug works, Keytruda may cause harm to infants born to pregnant females* who used the drug during pregnancy.

For this reason, you should use birth control while taking Keytruda if you or your partner can become pregnant. And you should continue to use birth control for at least 4 months after your last dose.

It isnt known if Keytruda can pass into breast milk. To be safe, you shouldnt breastfeed while using Keytruda and for at least 4 months after your last dose.

Before starting Keytruda treatment, tell your doctor if youre pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Also tell them if youre breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed. They can discuss your options with you.

* In this article, we use the term female to refer to someones sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.

Keytruda is a drug used to treat certain types of cancer in adults and some children.

Some people who use Keytruda may have mild side effects. Although rare, serious side effects can occur with Keytruda. Many of these happen because of an overactive immune system. Keep in mind that the side effects of Keytruda can vary depending on whether Keytruda is used alone or with other cancer drugs.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about Keytrudas side effects. Here are a few questions you may want to ask:

Disclaimer: Healthline 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 other 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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Keytruda Side Effects: What They Are and How to Manage Them - Healthline

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