What is durvalumab?

Durvalumab is usually used to treat lung cancer.

It can be used to treat non-small cell lung cancer that cannot be removed with surgery and has not grown after finishing chemoradiation. Your doctor will arrange for tests on the lung cancer cells (from a biopsy) to find out if durvalumab is likely to be a helpful treatment for you.

Durvalumab may sometimes be used to treat other cancers, such as bladder cancer and head and neck cancer. You may have it as part of a clinical trial. It is best to read this information with our general information about the type of cancer you have.

Durvalumab is an immunotherapy drug. It may also be called a checkpoint inhibitor. Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and the possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

How durvalumab is given

You will usually be given durvalumab at a day unit as an outpatient. Durvalumab can be given on its own or with other cancer drugs.

During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Before, or on the day of, treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) may take a blood sample from you.

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have treatment. They will talk to you about your blood results and ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your treatment.

Durvalumab is given as a drip into a vein (intravenous infusion). It is given over 1 hour. 

Your course of treatment

If you have NSCLC, you usually have durvalumab every 2 weeks for up to 1 year. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will discuss your treatment plan with you.

If durvalumab causes serious side effects, your doctor may delay your treatment until they improve.

About side effects

We explain the main side effects of this treatment here. We also include some other possible side effects.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.

Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.

Serious or delayed side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

This treatment may cause delayed side effects. These can start weeks, months, or sometimes more than a year, after you finish treatment.

If you have any symptoms or side effects that start during treatment or after treatment finishes, contact your doctor or hospital straight away. Side effects can become serious if they are not treated.

Your patient alert card

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you a card with information about your treatment on it. It is important to always have the card with you during treatment and after treatment finishes. You should show it to any doctor or healthcare professional you need to see.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

Sometimes side effects can become serious very quickly. It is important to contact the hospital straight away if you have new symptoms or side effects.

More information

We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.

Side effects while treatment is being given

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • shivering
  • itching
  • a skin rash
  • feeling dizzy
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless or wheezy
  • swelling of your face or mouth
  • pain in your back, tummy or chest.

Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your treatment. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, it can be treated quickly.

Sometimes a reaction happens a few hours after treatment. If you develop any signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away.

Main side effects

Some of these side effects are rare. But it is important to know about them. Side effects can become serious if they are not treated. If you have any symptoms or side effects that start during treatment or after treatment finishes, contact your doctor or hospital straight away. These may start weeks, months or sometimes more than a year after treatment.

Diarrhoea or tummy pain

You may have diarrhoea or tummy pain.

Contact the hospital straight away if you have any of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • passing stools (pooing) more than 4 times a day
  • waking up at night to pass stools
  • pain in your tummy (abdomen)
  • being sick
  • blood or mucus in your stools
  • a fever, with a temperature over 37.5°C (99.5°F).

You may need to go into hospital to have fluids through a drip (infusion) or other treatments, such as steroids.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs due to inflammation. It can also cause lung infections (pneumonia).

Contact the hospital straight away if you notice any of these changes during treatment or after it finishes:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • a fever, with a temperature over 37.5°C (99.5°F).

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs. You may need steroids or other treatments.

Skin changes

This treatment may cause skin changes, including:

  • a rash
  • itching
  • patches of white or paler skin.

If you are out in the sun, use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (at least SPF 30) to protect your skin. Always tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any skin changes during treatment or after it finishes. You may need creams, steroids or other medicines. Your doctor may stop your treatment until the skin changes improve.

Rarely, a much more serious skin condition can develop. You may have a skin rash which then blisters, and your skin can peel. You may also feel unwell with flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature and joint pain. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or hospital immediately.

Muscle and joint pain

This treatment can cause sore or weak muscles and stiff, sore or swollen joints. Contact your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • new aches or pains
  • new stiffness in a joint
  • swollen or red joints.

You may need steroids or other treatments such as painkillers.

Hormone changes

This treatment may affect how your body makes hormones. Hormones control many different processes in the body. You will have regular blood tests to check some of your hormone levels.

The most common problem is lowering your thyroid gland hormones. This can cause symptoms of tiredness, weight gain and being sensitive to cold.  Durvalumab can also cause a rise in your thyroid hormones but this is less common.  You may feel nervous, anxious and lose weight for no reason.

Your doctor may give you drugs to control your hormone levels, and to reduce the risk of hormonal side effects. Other possible hormonal side effects to look out for are:

  • increased sweating
  • dizziness or fainting
  • feeling more hungry or thirsty than usual
  • loss of sex drive
  • passing urine (peeing) more often than usual 
  • headaches that do not go away
  • feeling very tired.

If you have any of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes, tell your doctor straight away.

Effects on the liver

This treatment can affect how your liver works. You will have regular blood tests to check this. Your doctor may give you steroids if the blood tests show liver changes.

Sometimes liver changes can be serious. Contact the hospital straight away if you have any of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • yellow skin or eyes
  • feeling very sleepy
  • dark urine (pee)
  • unexplained bleeding or bruising
  • loss of appetite.

You may need steroids or other treatments, and may be monitored until your liver recovers.

Effects on the nervous system

This treatment can affect the nervous system. This is not common but can become serious if it is not treated.

Contact your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • feeling confused
  • being extremely drowsy, headaches, vomiting, neck stiffness or sensitivity to light
  • dizziness or unsteadiness
  • any weakness, numbness or tingling in your arms, legs or face
  • fits (seizures). 

You may need steroids and other treatment.

Effects on the kidneys

This treatment can affect how your kidneys work. This is not common but can become serious if it is not treated. You will have regular blood tests to check how your kidneys are working. Your doctor may give you steroids or other treatments if tests show kidney changes.

Contact the hospital straight away if you have either of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • you are not passing urine (peeing) at all
  • you are only passing very small amounts of urine.

Raised blood sugar levels

This treatment may raise your blood sugar levels. You will have regular blood tests to check this. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include:

  • feeling thirsty
  • needing to pass urine (pee) more often
  • feeling tired.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes.

If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works.This is not common, but it can be serious. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and after treatment.

Call your doctor straight away on the 24-hour number the hospital has given you if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • pain or tightness in your chest
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

If your symptoms are caused by this treatment, you may need steroids. You may be monitored in hospital for a time.

Other possible side effects

Feeling sick

If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids and try to eat small amounts often. Your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness drugs. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains to you. If you continue to feel sick, contact the hospital. They will give you advice and may change the anti-sickness drug to one that may work better for you.

Mouth problems

You may get mouth problems, such as a sore mouth or infection. Always let your doctor or nurse know if you have any problems with your mouth, including dental problems. They can give you mouthwashes, medicines and gels to heal ulcers and clear or prevent any infection. Your nurse will explain how to look after your mouth to reduce the risk of problems.

The most common mouth infection is called thrush (or candidiasis). It shows as white spots on your mouth and tongue, or your tongue and mouth lining become red and swollen.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect of this treatment. But sometimes tiredness is a sign that treatment is affecting your hormone levels or nerves. You may need treatment for this.

Contact your doctor straight away if you have either of these symptoms during treatment or after it finishes:

  • tiredness that gets worse
  • feeling weak or shaky.

If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.

Sore throat, colds and cough

You are more likely to get infections such as colds, sore throats or sinus problems with this treatment. It may also cause a cough.

Contact the hospital straight away if you: 

  • have a cough 
  • are breathless 
  • have cold symptoms, 
  • have a sore throat, hoarseness or blocked sinuses.

Fluid build-up

You may find that your ankles and legs may swell. This improves slowly after your treatment has finished. Your doctor may give you drugs to help reduce the swelling.

Night sweats

You may have night sweats with durvalumab. Tell your doctor if this happens. If you have high temperature or any symptoms of infection, contact the hospital straight away.

Pain passing urine

Some people taking durvalumab may have discomfort or pain passing urine. If this happens, contact the hospital. They can give you advice and check if you have an infection.

Other information about durvalumab

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:

  • throbbing pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing
  • sharp chest pain, which may be worse when you cough or take a deep breath.

If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs that thin the blood (anticoagulants). Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

You can help reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by:
  • staying active during treatment
  • drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.

You may be given anticoagulants to help prevent a clot.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:

  • medicines you have been prescribed
  • medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
  • vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.

You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about having vaccinations.

Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have a flu vaccination and a coronavirus vaccination. These are both inactivated vaccinations that can help reduce the risk of infection. People with weak immune systems can have these, as they are not live vaccinations.

If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations. This is because they can make you unwell. Live vaccines, such as shingles, contain a very weak version of the illness they are vaccinating you against. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live and inactivated vaccinations.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment finishes. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.

If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert health professionals and people living with cancer.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.