1 What is Keytruda?

Brand: Keytruda

Generic: Pembrolizumab

Keytruda is an anticancer medicine approved for treatment of advanced skin cancer and certain cases of lung cancer.

Doctors prescribe Keytruda to treat advanced skin cancer (melanoma) that has spread to other parts of the body and cannot be removed through surgery.

Keytruda is also used to treat non-small cell lung cancer cases have progressed after chemotherapy and positive for the following:

  • EGFR gene 
  • ALK gene
  • BRAF V600 mutation

Keytruda is a monoclonal antibody designed to act selectively against PD-L1-expressing tumors. PD-L1 is a molecule in certain cancer cells that works to prevent the body’s immune system on acting against it, allowing it to grow unchecked. By blocking PD-L1, Pembrolizumab works by allowing the immune system to attack cancerous cells and cause remission of cancer. 

In clinical trials, Pembrolizumab induced a response in a significant number of selected patients with lung cancer and melanoma. Pembrolizumab was approved on an FDA fast-track program on the basis that it cause a response to tumor cells. It is still not known or studied if Pembrolizumab improves cancer symptoms or prolong survival rates of patients.

Pembrolizumab requires a prescription. If you take Pembrolizumab, you need to be closely supervised by health professionals. Patients taking Pembrolizumab face serious risks of diabetes, problems in the liver, digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, and thyroid as well as inflammation of the pituitary gland and abnormal immune system activity. Pembrolizumab must be used only according to doctor’s instructions

2 What to Know Before Using

If you are about to start using Keytruda, speak with your doctor about what you need to know. Keytruda can cause many side effects, some of which are serious and can be fatal. Discuss this risk with your doctor before receiving Keytruda.

If you receive Keytruda, the doctor will schedule several clinic and lab tests to determine early signs of side effects and assess your condition. You must tell the doctor all your health problems before receiving Keytruda.

The doctor will need to know if you have the following health conditions:

Pembrolizumab is highly contraindicated in pregnant patients. Pembrolizumab is harmful to the unborn baby. Do not breastfeed when receiving Pembrolizumab because there is a possibility it can be expressed in breast milk and its safety in infants is not fully understood. 

Pembrolizumab is not tested and proven safe for patients younger than 18 years old. 

Tell the doctor all medicines you take before receiving Pembrolizumab. Up to the time of this writing, Pembrolizumab has no formal drug interactions. However, several medicines are known to affect the liver, kidneys or the immune system, which may end up interacting with effects of Pembrolizumab.

3 Proper Usage

Proper usage of Keytruda requires strict adherence to your doctor’s orders. Keytruda is given by injecting it into the veins (intravenous route).

However, the doctor will first order tests to see if Keytruda is appropriate for you. Keytruda dose is based on body weight. The doctor will determine your dose of Keytruda.

Keytruda comes with a medication guide. Make sure to understand all the information on the guide before receiving Pembrolizumab. If you have questions, ask it to your doctor or pharmacist. 

Keytruda is given continuously until cancer progress or until toxicities become too severe. 

Keytruda is usually given every 3 weeks. Health professionals will inject Pembrolizumab to you, and this must be done in the clinical setting so you can only have the medication in the hospital or doctor’s clinic. 

The doctor may give you other medicines to control side effects. You need to be closely monitored while receiving Pembrolizumab. Do not miss clinic appointments.

If you miss an appointment where you will receive Pembrolizumab, call your doctor immediately. Because Pembrolizumab will be given by health professionals, overdosing is very unlikely.

4 Precautions to Take

In using Keytruda, you must be careful and take some precautions as advised by your doctor. Keytruda can be present in feces, urine and body fluids for at least 48 hours after administration.

Take precautions to prevent others from becoming exposed to Keytruda. The patient and caregivers must wear gloves when cleaning up body fluids, handling soiled laundry or changing diapers. 

Always wash hands before and after using gloves. Flush the toilet twice after using the bathroom, and wash soiled laundry and linens separately.

Make sure to maintain open communication with your doctor when receiving Keytruda. Keytruda can cause serious side effects. You must have immediate access to medical help if you experience any untoward symptoms.

The doctor will schedule you to have regular lab tests while receiving Pembrolizumab to determine your condition and detect early signs of side effects. Do not miss any clinic and laboratory appointments. 

If you are receiving Keytruda, do not take medicine, including prescription medication, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal substances, without asking your doctor first. 

It is very important not to become pregnant or do breastfeeding when receiving Pembrolizumab. Use a barrier birth control device like a condom or diaphragm when having sex. If you became pregnant or nursed a child, call your doctor right away.

5 Potential Side Effects

As with many medications, there are several potential side effects associated with Keytruda.

Call your doctor if you experienced the following side effects while receiving Keytruda:

  • Symptoms lung problems such as a newly-developing or worsening cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath
  • Intestinal problem symptoms such as diarrhea, severe pain in the abdomen, changes in stool
  • Potential liver problem symptoms such as jaundice, upper stomach pain or tenderness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, passing out dark urine or clay-colored stools, easy bruising, and bleeding 
  • Symptoms of inflammation of the pituitary gland such as a severe headache, weakness, dizziness, fainting, and changes in vision
  • Symptoms of kidney problem such as changes in urine output, passing out very little urine, burning or painful sensation while urinating, and change in urine color
  • Thyroid problem symptoms such as palpitations, hair loss, sudden weight loss or weight gain, and feeling too hot or cold
  • Hormonal imbalance symptoms such as frequent headaches, vision changes, lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, rapid heartbeats, changes in mood or behavior, hoarseness, changes in voice, increased hunger or thirst, frequent urination, hair loss and sweating 
  • Diarrhea or increased frequency of defecation
  • Passing out bloody or tarry stools
  • Severe or ongoing muscle weakness or joint pain

Keytruda may cause minor side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or both
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Tired feeling

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