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Keytruda (Pembrolizumab): 8 Answers Inc. Cost, Side Effects, and Success Rate

Answers to the most common questions about Keytruda

Keytruda, or pembrolizumab, is a drug used in cancer immunotherapy. Some of the specific cancers it can be used to treat include stomach cancer, melanoma, lung cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Keytruda was put into medical use in 2014 following approval in the US. Since then, it has been added to the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicine.

The content on this page is provided for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, you should talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare professional. This is particularly important if you are taking multiple medications or have any existing medical conditions.

  1. How does Keytruda work?
  2. How much does Keytruda cost?
  3. Who makes Keytruda?
  4. What are the side effects of Keytruda?
  5. How long does Keytruda take to work?
  6. What are the signs that Keytruda is working?
  7. What is the success rate of Keytruda treatment?
  8. How do you take Keytruda?

1. How does Keytruda work?

Unlike some other cancer drugs, Keytruda is not a form of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Instead, it is known as an immunotherapy, meaning it works by helping the immune system to fight cancer. The immune system is the body’s means of defending itself against any disease, including cancer. PD-1 also known as programmed death protein 1 is a protein found on surface of cells. It down regulates the immune system and promotes self tolerance by suppressing T-cell inflammatory activity. T cells are the immune systems defense cells. Keytruda works by blocking this pathway so T cells can effectively attack cancerous cells.

2. How much does Keytruda cost?

The price of Keytruda will vary greatly depending on location and insurance coverage. However, patients who are paying out-of-pocket can expect to pay around $12,500 per month, or $150,000 per year. For patients who aren’t covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid may be able to greatly reduce the price. The Merck Access program may be able to help reduce costs for patients who have no insurance coverage.

3. Who makes Keytruda?

Pembrolizumab was first created in 2006 by researchers working at the pharmaceutical company Organon. Organon was later acquired by Merck who currently owns and manufactures the drug.

4. What are the side effects of Keytruda?

Keytruda may potentially cause side effects ranging from mild to severe. The list below includes some of the most common side effects but is not a complete list. Mild side effects may go away after a few days or weeks of consistent medication-taking, but if they persist or worsen you should speak with your doctor.

Common side effects:

Serious side effects:

  • Colitis (fever, diarrhea, bloating)
  • Hepatitis (itchy skin, yellowing skin, nausea)
  • Hypothyroidism (depression, dry skin, constipation, fatigue)
  • Nephritis (frequent urination, burning sensation when urinating, pelvic pain)
    If you experience any of these serious side effects, you should speak with your doctor or seek immediate medical attention if it is an emergency.

In some rare cases, patients can experience allergic reactions. Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms after taking Keytruda.

  • Skin rash
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the throat or chest
  • Difficulty talking or breathing
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat

5. How long does Keytruda take to work?

It’s difficult for many patients to know when Keytruda has begun working as the effects may not be noticeable. Oftentimes the most noticeable part of treatment, excluding test results, is the side effects. Typically, patients can expect the drug to begin working after a couple months of treatment. Treatment will continue for as long as it works and side effects are manageable, though it usually won’t last longer than two years.

6. What are the signs that Keytruda is working?

As mentioned above, it can be tricky to determine if Keytruda is working based on feeling alone. To truly know how effective your Keytruda treatment is you’ll need to have regular check-ups, involving blood tests and different types of scans.

7. What is the success rate of Keytruda treatment?

Generally, Keytruda has been shown to greatly increase the overall survival in many patients with a wide range of cancer types. It’s important to remember though, that every patient is unique and may experience treatment differently. For more specific information on the projected effectiveness of Keytruda treatment, you should speak with your doctor.

8. How do you take Keytruda?

Keytruda is administered as IV injections every three weeks. The process usually takes around 30 minutes and may be accompanied by allergy-reducing medications, depending on the needs of individual patients. The amount of Keytruda administered will vary based on factors such as weight, other health problems, and the specific type of cancer being treated. It is usually not possible to self-administer Keytruda.


The content on this page is provided for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, you should talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare professional. This is particularly important if you are taking multiple medications or have any existing medical conditions.

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