Join Us

Keytruda

Save as Favorite
Sign in to receive recommendations (Learn more)

Keytruda (chemical name: pembrolizumab) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used:

  • in combination with chemotherapy to treat unresectable locally advanced or metastatic triple-negative, PD-L1-positive breast cancer
  • in combination with chemotherapy before surgery, and then on its own after surgery to treat early-stage triple-negative breast cancer with a high risk of recurrence (the cancer coming back)

Keytruda also may be used to treat:

  • metastatic or unresectable breast cancers that have a biomarker called microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) that have grown after previous treatment; MSI-H and dMMR tumors have abnormalities that affect how DNA is repaired
  • metastatic or unresectable breast cancers with tumor mutational burden-high (TMB-H) that have grown after previous treatment; TMB-H means the cancer tumor has a high level of mutations in its DNA

Learn more about:

How Keytruda works

Keytruda is a type of immunotherapy called an immune checkpoint inhibitor. Immune checkpoints are proteins in your body that help your immune system tell the difference between your own cells and foreign invaders, such as harmful bacteria. Cancer cells sometimes find ways to use these immune checkpoint proteins as a shield to avoid being identified and attacked by the immune system.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors target these immune checkpoint proteins and help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. PD-1 is a type of checkpoint protein found on T cells, which are immune system cells that roam throughout the body looking for signs of disease or infection. PD-L1 is another checkpoint protein found on many healthy cells in the body. When PD-1 binds to PD-L1, it stops T cells from killing a cell.

Still, some cancer cells have a lot of PD-L1 on their surface, which stops T cells from killing these cancer cells. An immune checkpoint inhibitor medicine that stops PD-1 from binding to PD-L1 allows T cells to attack the cancer cells.

Learn more about immune checkpoint inhibitors and how they work.

Back to top

Is Keytruda right for you?

Keytruda is FDA-approved to treat certain types of triple-negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer is breast cancer that is:

  • estrogen-receptor-negative
  • progesterone-receptor-negative
  • HER2-negative

Triple-negative breast cancers are usually more aggressive, harder to treat, and more likely to come back (recur) than cancers that are hormone-receptor-positive or HER2-positive. Triple-negative breast cancers don't usually respond to hormonal therapy medicines or the medicines that target the HER2 protein.

Keytruda may be an option for people with triple-negative breast cancer that is:

  • unresectable locally advanced breast cancer
  • metastatic breast cancer
  • early-stage breast cancer with a high risk of recurrence

Unresectable locally advanced breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread outside the breast to other tissues in the breast area. Unresectable means that it can’t be removed with surgery.

Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body away from the breast, such as the bones or liver.

Keytruda also may be an option for people diagnosed with:

  • metastatic or unresectable breast cancers that have a biomarker called microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) that have grown after previous treatment; MSI-H and dMMR tumors have abnormalities that affect how DNA is repaired
  • metastatic or unresectable breast cancers with tumor mutational burden-high (TMB-H) that have grown after previous treatment; TMB-H means the cancer tumor has a high level of mutations in its DNA

Back to top

What to expect when taking Keytruda

Keytruda is given as a 30-minute infusion, every 3 or 6 weeks, depending on the dose given at each infusion. The Keytruda infusion is given before the chemotherapy infusion. If you are receiving Keytruda for metastatic or unresectable locally advanced triple-negative breast cancer, you may continue treatment with Keytruda and chemotherapy for up to 2 years, unless the cancer grows or you develop unacceptable side effects.

Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should not be given Keytruda. Keytruda can cause embryo death and birth defects. It’s important that you don’t get pregnant while you’re getting Keytruda; you must use effective birth control.

Visit Treatment for Breast Cancer During Pregnancy for more information.

Back to top

Paying for Keytruda

If your doctor prescribes Keytruda and you have any problems getting it covered by insurance, Merck, the company that makes Keytruda, has a patient support program that may be able to help you. You can call the Merck Access Program at 855-257-3932.

Back to top

Keytruda side effects

Like most cancer treatments, Keytruda can cause side effects, some of them severe.

The most common side effects of Keytruda are:

Keytruda also can cause other serious side effects, including:

  • Lung problems: Keytruda may cause inflammation of the lungs, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms include trouble breathing, worsening cough, and chest pain.
  • Liver problems: Keytruda may cause hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). Tell your doctor right away if you have yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes, dark-colored urine, bleeding or bruising more easily than normal, severe nausea or vomiting, or pain on the right side of your stomach area.
  • Colitis (inflammation of the inner lining of the colon): Symptoms include diarrhea, blood or mucus in your stool, and severe stomach pain.
  • Hormone gland problems: Keytruda may affect glands that make hormones your body needs to function properly, including the thyroid, adrenal glands, pancreas, and pituitary gland. Symptoms include headaches that won’t go away, extreme tiredness, weight gain or loss, changes in mood or behavior, feeling cold, and constipation.
  • Other organ problems: Keytruda also may affect other organs in your body. Symptoms include severe muscle weakness, confusion, blurry or double vision, neck stiffness, skin blisters, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or swelling of the ankles.
  • Severe infection: Symptoms include fever, cough, flu-like symptoms, pain when urinating, or back pain.

Back to top

Join the Conversation


References

  1. Keytruda (pembrolizumab) prescribing information. Merck. USA. Available at: https://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/k/keytruda/keytruda_pi.pdf. (PDF)

Was this article helpful? Yes / No
Rn icon

Can we help guide you?

Create a profile for better recommendations



How does this work? Learn more
Are these recommendations helpful? Take a quick survey

2021eg sidebarad v01
Back to Top