If you notice any symptoms while receiving your pembrolizumab treatment, you should speak to your Healthcare Professional right away. Be aware that side effects may still occur after receiving the final dose of your treatment and can affect more than one body area. Certain medicines, such as corticosteroids, may be used to help prevent more severe complications and reduce your symptoms. Your Healthcare Professional may delay or completely stop your treatment if your side effects are too severe. Do not attempt to diagnose or treat side effects yourself.
Ensure that you read the Patient Safety Information Brochure and carry your Patient Alert Card with you at all times.
How does your treatment work?
Pembrolizumab belongs to a type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. This type of drug works with your body’s immune system, by increasing its natural ability to identify and attack cancer cells.
How is your treatment given?
Your treatment will be given to you in a hospital or clinic under the supervision of an experienced Healthcare Professional. Your treatment will be given through an infusion into a vein.
The infusion will last for 30 minutes. The amount of treatment you receive depends on what type of cancer you are being treated for. Your treatment will be given once every 3 weeks. Your Healthcare Professional will decide on how many treatments you will need.
Sometimes your tumour may get bigger for the first few months before it starts to shrink or new tumours may appear. If your tumour seems to get worse at first after starting treatment, your Healthcare Professional may continue your treatment if your health is stable, and will check again to see if you are responding.
It is important that you visit your Healthcare Professional for your scheduled appointments so your HCP can check your progress and administer your treatment. If you are unable to keep an appointment, call your HCP right away to reschedule.
Will there be side effects?
Like all medicines, pembrolizumab can cause side effects. Although not everyone gets them, it is important to look out for any signs and/or symptoms. If you notice any symptoms you should communicate these straight away, to help your HCP stop them from becoming more serious. Your doctor may give you other medicines in order to prevent more severe complications and reduce your symptoms.
Many of the side effects can be managed without having to permanently come off treatment. Your HCP will determine how to best manage your side effects. Do not attempt to diagnose or treat side effects yourself. Always carry your patient alert card with you at all times.
Tell your doctor if you have had a solid tumour transplant or if you're being considered for a stem cell transplant.
Understand the side effects
Like all medicines, pembrolizumab can cause side effects. Although not everybody gets them, it is important to look out for any signs and/or symptoms. If you get any side effects, talk to your Healthcare Professional straight away. This includes any possible side effects not listed in the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL).
It is important to be aware of side effects. You may experience more than one side effect at the same time. Telling your Healthcare Professional straight away as soon as you notice any symptoms may stop them from becoming more serious.
Do not attempt to diagnose or treat side effects yourself.
Main symptoms to look out for
Below is a diagram of the major symptoms you should look out for. If you get any side effects, talk to your Healthcare Professional immediately. This includes any side effects not included in the. Symptoms to look out for include:
- My eyesight has changed
- I have double vision
- I have noticed a yellowing of my eyes
MOUTH AND HEAD
- I am more thirsty than usual
- I have a dry mouth
- I feel faint or dizzy
- I have headaches that will not go away or are unusual for me
THROAT AND CHEST
- I have developed a new or worse cough
- My voice is getting deeper
- I feel more short of breath
- I have chest pain
- I have noticed a rapid or irregular heartbeat
SKIN AND HAIR
- I have noticed a yellowing of my skin
- My skin has lost some of its colour
- I’ve developed a rash or my skin is itchy
- I’m bleeding or bruising more easily than normal
- I’m sweating more than normal
- My hair is falling out
- My skin is blistering or peeling
STOMACH AND BOWEL
- I feel less or more hungry than usual
- I’ve been nauseous and vomiting
- I’m constipated
- I have diarrhoea or more bowel movements than usual
- My stools are black, tarry, sticky, or have blood or mucus
- My stomach area feels sore or tender
- The amount and colour of my urine has changed
- My urine is dark
- I need to urinate more often
MUSCLES, JOINTS AND LEGS
- My muscles ache
- I have severe or persistent mucle or joint pains, or severe muscle weakness
- There is swelling in my legs
- I feel pain, weakness and/or paralysis in my arms and legs.
- I feel more tired or confused
- I feel colder than normal
- I have a fever
- I’ve lost or gained weight
- I’ve noticed a change in my behaviour
- I’ve been feeling anxious or irritable
- I feel generally unwell
- I have ulcers in my mouth, lining of nose, throat or genital area
What to do if symptoms occur
It is important to contact your Healthcare Professional as soon as symptoms occur. Always carry your Patient Alert Card which contains important information about symptoms that need to be reported immediately to your Healthcare Professional treating you while you are away from home. It also alerts other Healthcare Professionals that you are being treated with pembrolizumab. Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, may be used to help prevent more severe complications and reduce your symptoms. Your Healthcare Professional may delay or completely stop your treatment if your side effects are too severe.
Do not attempt to diagnose or treat side effects yourself.
Your support tools
Sometimes it can feel like there is lots to remember about your treatment. Having materials that you can fill in and carry with you can help you to stay on top of the information. You might find this especially true when it comes to the list of symptoms you should look out for.
Your Healthcare team should have provided you with a Patient Safety Information Brochure and Patient Alert Card to help you identify any side effects you may experience on pembrolizumab. Ensure you read these materials and carry your Patient Alert Card with you at all times.
Patients: Safety Information Brochure and Patient Alert Card
Patient Frequently Asked Questions
This page answers some of the questions you might have about your treatment.
It is a good idea to jot down any other questions you have in your Immunotherapy Diary if your Healthcare team have provided you with one, so that you can ask them at your next appointment.
What effect will pembrolizumab have on my other medicines?
Because of the way your treatment is cleared from your body, it shouldn't interact with other medicines. However, it is important to tell your Healthcare Professional (HCP) about any medicines you are currently taking or planning on taking.
Can I take antibiotics?
You should take any medications prescribed to you by your HCP. Based on how your body breaks down your treatment, it shouldn't interact with other medicines you are taking, however remind your HCP that you are receiving pembrolizumab.
Can I take vitamin & herbal supplements?
You should tell your HCP about all the medicines you take, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Your HCP can help you to decide if they are suitable to take or not.
Can I have vaccinations?
Consult your HCP before receiving any vaccinations. It is recommended that you do not receive any vaccinations while taking pembrolizumab without your HCP's approval.
Can I go on holiday?
Discuss your holiday plans with your HCP before you book your holiday. Some extra preparation may be necessary, and you should always carry your Patient Alert Card with you.
Can I drink alcohol?
In general, alcohol consumption should be kept to a minimum when taking pembrolizumab. You can discuss this with your HCP.
Should I use contraception?
Yes. It is possible that your treatment could harm or cause death to your unborn baby. If you are female and able to become pregnant you should use an effective method of contraception during and for at least four months after the last dose of pembrolizumab. Talk to your HCP about birth control methods that you can use during this time, and tell your HCP right away if you become pregnant during treatment.
Can I breastfeed?
Since it is not known if pembrolizumab passes into your breast milk, you should not breastfeed during your treatment. If before starting treatment you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed, be sure to tell your HCP.
Can I drive and/or operate machinery?
You may feel tired while taking pembrolizumab, which may affect your ability to drive or use tools or machines. If this happens, avoid these activities.
Can I have my hair dyed?
Yes. However, some people develop rashes or skin sensitivities while taking this treatment; if you have a rash or sensitive skin on your scalp during treatment, it is possible that hair dye may aggravate this. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns.