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Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for kidney cancer

Keytruda is a medication used to treat patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in combination with Axitinib (Inlyta).

Dosage:  200 mg administered as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every 3 weeks or 400 mg as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every 6 weeks.

Route of Administration: Keytruda is given as an IV infusion by a healthcare provider in a clinic or medical office.

Schedule:  Keytruda is given as an IV infusion every 3 or 6 weeks.

How long should I take Keytruda?

  • Your doctor will decide how many treatments you need.  
  • Keytruda can cause certain side effects by enhancing how your immune system works. This can cause symptoms to occur in any body system which may need to be treated. It is important to let your doctor know if you develop new side effects. Keytruda may need to be delayed or stopped if you develop side effects.
  • You will need frequent medical tests to help your doctor determine if it is safe for you to continue receiving Keytruda.

Dietary restrictions: Follow your doctor’s instructions about any restrictions of food, beverages, medications or activities. There are no general dietary restrictions.

Tell your healthcare provider if you:  

  • Have immune system problems such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or lupus
  • Have received an organ transplant, such as a kidney or liver
  • Have received or plan to receive a stem cell transplant that uses donor stem cells (allogeneic)
  • Have lung or breathing problems
  • Have liver problems
  • Have any other medical problems
  • Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Keytruda can harm your unborn baby. 

For females who are able to become pregnant:

  • Your doctor will give you a pregnancy test before you start treatment with Keytruda. You should use an effective method of birth during and for at least 4 months after the final dose of Keytruda. Tell your doctor right away if you think you may be pregnant or if you become pregnant during treatment with Keytruda

For females who are planning to breast feed:

  • It is not known if Keytruda passes into your breast milk. Do not breast feed during treatment with Keytruda and for 4 months after your final dose of Keytruda.

Tell your healthcare provider about all the medications you take including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Know the medicines you take. Keep a list of them to show your doctor and pharmacist when you get a new medicine.

What are the possible side effects of Keytruda?

Keytruda can cause your immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in any area of your body and can affect their function.

Common side effects of Keytruda when given with Axitinib (Inlyta) include:

  • diarrhea
  • feeling tired or weak
  • high blood pressure
  • liver problems
  • low levels of thyroid hormone
  • decreased appetite
  • blisters or rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
  • nausea
  • mouth sores or swelling of the lining of the mouth, nose, eyes, throat, intestines, or vagina
  • hoarseness
  • rash
  • cough
  • constipation

These are not all of the possible side effects of Keytruda. Talk to your healthcare team for more information. For more information, ask your doctor or pharmacist. 

Call your provider and healthcare team at once if you experience any side effects.

Keytruda may cause serious side effects. A serious side effect is a side effect that can sometimes become life-threatening. They can happen anytime during treatment or even after your treatment has ended. 

Serious side effects may include:

  • Lung problems (pneumonitis): shortness of breath, chest pain, new or worsening cough.
  • Intestinal problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine: diarrhea or more bowel movements than usual, stools that are black, tarry, sticky, or have blood or mucus, severe stomach area (abdominal) pain or tenderness
  • Liver problems, including hepatitis: yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes; nausea or vomiting; pain on the right side of your stomach area (abdomen), dark urine, bleeding or bruising more easily than normal.
  • Hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands, and pancreas): fatigue; rapid heartbeat; weight loss or weight gain; increased sweating; feeling more hungry or thirsty; urinating more often than usual; hair loss; feeling cold; constipation; your voice gets deeper; muscle aches; dizziness or fainting; headaches that will not go away or unusual headache.      
  • Kidney problems (nephritis and kidney failure): change in the amount or color of your urine.
  • Skin problems: rash, itching, blisters, peeling or skin sores; painful sores or ulcers in your mouth, nose, throat, or genital area. 
  • Problems in other organs: 
    • Changes in eyesight or eye pain
    • Persistent muscle or joint pains
    • Severe muscle weakness
    • Low red blood cells (anemia)
    • Heart inflammation: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, fatigue
  • Infusion reactions that can sometimes be severe and life-threatening: Chills or shaking, shortness of breath or wheezing, itching or rash, flushing, dizziness, fever, or feeling like you are going to pass out.

Getting medical treatment right away is important to  help keep these problems from becoming more serious. Call your healthcare team immediately if you have any new symptoms. Your healthcare team  will check you for these problems during treatment with Keytruda. You may need  corticosteroid or hormone replacement medicines to manage side effects. Your doctor may also need to delay or completely stop treatment with Keytruda if you have severe side effects.

General information about Keytruda: This patient information sheet summarizes the most important information about Keytruda. If you would like more information, talk with your doctor. Your healthcare provider is the best source of information about your health.

Patient Assistance Program:  Access Support is a reimbursement program from the company that markets Keytruda, Merck. To enroll, speak to your healthcare provider, or go to

Adapted from the Keytruda (pembrolizumab) package insert. Merck, 01/2020.  

KCA disclaimer statement: you should rely primarily upon your doctor for medical information.