Drugs Q & A

Signs That Keytruda Is Working

Keytruda is a cancer medicine used to treat:

•        melanoma, a skin cancer,

•        non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a type of lung cancer,

•        classical Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells,

•        urothelial cancer, a cancer of the bladder and urinary tract,

•        a cancer affecting the head and neck known as head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC),

•        renal cell carcinoma (a type of kidney cancer),

•        a kind of cancer of the colon or rectum (lower part of the gut) that is described as microsatellite instability high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR).

Keytruda is mainly used in adults for cancers that are advanced, have spread to other parts of the body (metastatic), or are not responding to other treatments. For classical Hodgkin lymphoma, it is also used in children. In some cancers, it is only given to patients whose tumors produce high levels of a protein known as PD-L1.

Keytruda is also used to help prevent cancer from coming back after patients had surgery to remove melanoma (adjuvant therapy).

How Keytruda works

Keytruda is not chemotherapy or radiation therapy—it is an immunotherapy and it works with your immune system to help fight cancer. Keytruda can cause your immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in any area of your body and can affect the way they work. These problems can sometimes become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death. You can have more than one of these problems at the same time. These problems may happen anytime during treatment or even after your treatment has ended.

How is Keytruda used?

Keytruda is given as an infusion (drip) into a vein. When Keytruda is given alone the dose is either 200 mg every three weeks or 400 mg every six weeks. When it is given with other cancer medicines, the dose is always 200 mg every three weeks. The dose for children is based on their body weight.

The doctor may delay doses if certain side effects occur or stop treatment altogether if side effects are severe. Before starting treatment, patients with NSCLC, previously untreated urothelial cancer or HNSCC should have tests to check their levels of PD-L1.

The medicine can only be obtained with a prescription and treatment must be started and supervised by a doctor experienced in the treatment of cancer. For more information about using Keytruda, see the package leaflet or contact your doctor or pharmacist.

Signs That Keytruda Is Working

What Are The Signs That Keytruda Is Working?

You know Keytruda is working when the tumor is shrinking, stable, or becomes more controlled. It is important to note that immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda may take longer to shrink tumors compared to traditional treatments like chemotherapy.

Treatment side effects such as inflammation may also be a sign that Keytruda is affecting the immune system in some way, the precise link between immunotherapy side effects and treatment success is unclear. In certain cancers, specific side effects point to the likelihood of treatment success. For example, melanoma patients who develop vitiligo (white patches of blotchy skin) are more likely to have success with their immunotherapy treatment. However, many patients who respond positively to Keytruda have no side effects.

During and after Keytruda treatment, your healthcare provider will be in charge of monitoring progression. They often use physical exams, imaging tests, and blood tests to measure how cancer responds to treatment. In addition to performing a physical examination and asking how the patient feels, they may also order additional imaging scans to measure the size of the tumor.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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