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Ipilimumab (Generic Name)

UPMC Content 2

About This Drug

Ipilimumab is a drug used to treat malignant melanoma. It is given in the vein (IV).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Fatigue
  • Itching and rash, which may be severe.  Drugs are available to lessen these side effects.
  • Nausea, throwing up, loose bowel movements.  These symptoms may happen within several hours of getting the drug and may last for several days.  Medicines are available to lessen these side effects.
  • Cough and feeling short of breath.

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Increased total bilirubin in your blood.  This may mean that you have changes in your liver function. Your blood work will be checked by your doctor.
  • Effects on pituitary and adrenal glands.  Blood work will be needed often to check for these potential side effects.
  • Colitis (inflammation of the colon) and enterocolitis (inflammation of the colon and small intestine) with very bad loose bowel movements (diarrhea).  Report diarrhea to your doctor right away.
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Inflammation of the nerves.  You may have weakness of your legs, arms, or face or numbness or tingling in your hands and feet.
  • Blurred vision or other changes in eyesight

Allergic Reaction

While you are getting this drug in your IV, tell your nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms of an allergic reaction:

  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat quickly  or in a not normal way (palpitations)
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Flushing, itching, rash, and/or hives

Treating Side Effects

  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake due to some other health problem. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you throw up or have loose bowel movements, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack water in the body from losing too much fluid).
  • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of routine, gentle cleaning of your teeth or dentures and rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after each meal and at bedtime.
  • If you have mouth sores, avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Also avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.
  • If you get a rash do not put anything on it unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that is available to help stop or lessen nausea, throwing up, loose bowel movements, or headache.
  • Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of ipilimumab with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are taking at this time. The safety and use of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often not known. Using these might affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor's help.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Black or bloody bowel movements
  • Chills
  • Bleeding or bruising that is not usual
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than three times a day
  • Rash or itching
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) of four stools a day or diarrhea with weakness or feeling lightheaded

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if any of these symptoms happen:

  • Blurred vision or other changes in eyesight
  • Eye pain or redness
  • Signs of liver problems: dark urine, pale bowel movements, bad stomach pain, bad tiredness or weakness, unusual itching, or yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • Weakness of your legs, arms, or face
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Changes in mood or behavior such as feeling irritable, or forgetful
  • Weight gain of 5 pounds in one week

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Infertility warning: Sexual problems and reproduction concerns may occur. In both men and women, this drug may affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your treatment. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking. 
    • In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations. 
    • In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are getting this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period.
    • Women may go through signs of menopause (change of life) like vaginal dryness or itching. Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations. 
    • Genetic counseling is available for you to talk about the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. Also, a genetic counselor can look at the possible risk of problems in the unborn baby due to this medicine if an exposure happens during pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
  • Breast feeding warning: It is not known if this drug passes into breast milk.  For this reason, women should talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of breast feeding during treatment with this drug because this drug may enter the breast milk and badly harm a breast feeding baby.

Revised July 2014