Expert Discusses Side Effects of Keytruda That Patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma Should Know About

Data presented at the ASCO 2020 Virtual Scientific Program demonstrated that Keytruda was an effective treatment for patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma and side effects were tolerable.

Results from the phase 3 randomized, open-label KEYNOTE-204 trial suggests that Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is superior to Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin) in patients with relapsed or refractory classic Hodgkin lymphoma. Moreover, the results showed manageable side effects and toxicity, according to Dr. John Kuruvilla.

Kuruvilla, from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, spoke with CURE®’s sister publication, CancerNetwork®, to discuss the noted side effects seen in the study and what clinicians and patients need to know about this treatment.


With the drugs, there is certainly lots of experience in routine clinical use, so we didn't see anything particularly new or surprising, but because the drugs work with different mechanisms we saw differential toxicity.

So, with brentuximab the common things that you see are things like peripheral neuropathy, largely improving or self-limited when the drug is held, or the dose reduced. With pembrolizumab we saw a lot of the immune-related adverse events that are fairly common for these types of drugs, they're fairly minor, things like hyper-thyroids and those sorts of things that are fairly common create grade 1 or 2 toxicities.

The one thing a lot of clinicians and patients need to know a little bit about is pneumonitis and so this was seen in about 10% of the patients who used Keytruda. IT was grade 3 or 4 in a little over 5% of patients who received the drug. Again, thankfully no patient-related deaths were seen in patients with these types of toxicities.

It could be successfully managed with steroids in the majority of patients, so it's important toxicity to highlight but certainly did not limit the effectiveness of the drug.