Pembrolizumab may also be used to treat other types of cancer as part of a clinical trial.
How pembrolizumab works
Pembrolizumab is a type of immunotherapy. It works by triggering your body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells. It belongs to a group of drugs called monoclonal antibodies. These drugs are sometimes called targeted therapies because they target specific proteins (receptors) on the surface of cells.
Pembrolizumab targets a protein (receptor) called PD-1. This is found on the surface of T-cells. T-cells are part of your body’s immune system and help your immune system to fight the cancer. Pembrolizumab targets a PD-1 receptor that switches off T-cells. It blocks (inhibits) the PD-1 receptor so the T-cells cannot be switched off. This keeps the T-cells active and may help shrink a tumour or stop it growing. Pembrolizumab is also known as an ‘immune checkpoint inhibitor’.
When is pembrolizumab used
Pembrolizumab is used to treat:
- melanoma that has spread or cannot be removed (advanced melanoma)
- non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- bladder cancer.
It may also be used to treat other cancers as part of a clinical trial. In this case, you might have pembrolizumab on its own or with other cancer drugs.
Your cancer doctor can tell you if it might be appropriate for you. If a drug is not available on the NHS, there may be different ways you are still able to have it. Your cancer doctor can give you advice.
We have more information about what you can do if treatment is not available.