If you have a certain kind of cancer, your doctor might suggest Yervoy (ipilimumab) as a treatment option for you.

Yervoy is a prescription medication used to treat certain forms of the following kinds of cancer in adults:

In addition, Yervoy may be used to treat certain forms of melanoma or colorectal cancer in some children.

Depending on the condition, Yervoy may be a short- or long-term treatment. For more information about Yervoy, including details about its uses, see this in-depth article.

Yervoy is a biologic drug, which is made from parts of living organisms. It comes as a liquid solution that a healthcare professional gives as an intravenous (IV) injection.

Like other drugs, Yervoy can cause mild or serious side effects. Keep reading to learn more.

Some people may experience mild or serious side effects during their Yervoy treatment. The list below includes a few of the more commonly reported side effects. These side effects can vary depending on whether you use the drug alone or with certain other drugs.

More common side effects in people taking Yervoy with or without other cancer medications include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

Like most medications, Yervoy can cause mild side effects. Examples of reported mild side effects with Yervoy include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

In most cases, these side effects should be temporary. And some may be easily managed, too. But if you have any symptoms that are ongoing or that bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And don’t stop using Yervoy unless your doctor recommends it.

Yervoy may cause mild side effects other than the ones listed above. See the Yervoy prescribing information for details.

Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you’d like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with Yervoy, visit MedWatch.

Serious side effects that have been reported with Yervoy include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

If you develop serious side effects while taking Yervoy, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about Yervoy’s side effects.

Are certain side effects more likely if I use Opdivo with Yervoy compared with taking Yervoy alone?

Yes, certain side effects may be more likely if you use Opdivo (nivolumab) with Yervoy. But in studies, the side effects of Yervoy were mostly similar regardless of whether people took it with or without other drugs.

For example, fatigue (low energy) was reported by people using Yervoy alone and by people using it with Opdivo. But the side effect occurred slightly more often in those taking both drugs.

To learn more about how side effects vary based on other medications that people used with Yervoy, check out the medication’s prescribing information. You can also talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

How long do Yervoy’s side effects last?

It depends. In most cases, the mild side effects that Yervoy may cause are temporary and last only a few days. Examples include a cough and nausea. But keep in mind that people’s experiences with Yervoy will vary.

Some side effects, including serious ones, may last a long time. For more information, see the “Can Yervoy cause long-term side effects?” section below.

If you have any side effects that are ongoing or that bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And don’t stop using Yervoy unless your doctor recommends it.

Can Yervoy cause long-term side effects?

Yes, Yervoy can cause some long-term side effects.

For example, Yervoy can cause certain immune system reactions, such as hepatitis (liver inflammation) or nephritis (kidney inflammation). In rare cases, such reactions can cause organ damage that does not go away.

Immune system reactions can occur at any time during Yervoy treatment. They’ve also been reported after people stopped using the drug.

For more information on immune system reactions that Yervoy can cause, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

If you have questions about Yervoy and its long-term side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Will treatment with Yervoy cause weight loss?

It’s possible. In studies, weight loss occurred in people who took the drug by itself or with Opdivo. This side effect was more common in people who took a high dose of Yervoy to treat melanoma.

These studies also reported that appetite loss or nausea can lead to weight loss. And the cancer that you are using Yervoy to treat can also cause weight loss.

If you’re concerned about weight loss and Yervoy, talk with your doctor. They can suggest ways to help increase your appetite and manage your weight.

If you notice sudden weight loss (3 pounds or more in less than a week), contact your doctor right away. This could be a symptom of another condition.

Learn more about some of the side effects Yervoy may cause.

Skin rash

It’s possible to develop a skin rash as a side effect from Yervoy. It’s one of the drug’s more common side effects, and it tends to be mild for most people. The risk of a mild rash appears to be higher when people use Yervoy with Opdivo (nivolumab) than when using Yervoy alone.

A rash can also be a symptom of a more serious side effect, such as an allergic reaction. In extreme cases, treatment with Yervoy may cause severe or even life threatening rashes. For more information, see the “Serious skin reactions” section below.

What might help

If you notice a rash while using Yervoy, contact your doctor right away. Although this side effect is mild in most people, it can be a symptom of a more serious side effect. So it’s important to have your doctor look at your rash as soon as possible. They can find out what may be causing it and suggest treatments.

For a mild rash, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to ease your symptoms.

Serious skin reactions

In rare cases, treatment with Yervoy can cause serious skin reactions. Severe skin reactions that have been reported with Yervoy include:

While the percentage of people who have this side effect during Yervoy treatment is low, these reactions can be life threatening. So it’s important to watch for symptoms of serious skin reactions, such as:

  • blisters on your eyes, lips, mouth, or skin
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • a rash that continues to get worse or is severe
  • red or discolored skin
  • skin burning or pain
  • skin peeling

What might help

If you think you’re having a severe skin reaction from Yervoy, contact your doctor right away. This side effect often requires treatment in the hospital. But if your symptoms feel life threatening, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

If you have a severe skin reaction as a side effect from Yervoy, your doctor will either temporarily or permanently stop your Yervoy treatment.

Serious immune system reactions

Yervoy treatment can cause serious immune system reactions, although this isn’t common.

Yervoy helps your immune system attack cancer cells. But your immune system can also mistakenly attack healthy cells in your body. This can cause serious side effects that may affect any area of your body. In rare cases, they can be life threatening and even fatal.

These reactions can occur at any time during Yervoy treatment and after you stop using the drug.

The following chart lists examples of these reactions and some of their symptoms.

Immune system reactionSymptoms
colitis (bowel inflammation)• diarrhea or black, bloody, sticky, or tarry stools
• severe belly pain
hepatitis (liver inflammation)• bleeding or bruising more easily than usual
• severe nausea or vomiting
yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes
hormone problems, including problems
with the pituitary, thyroid, or adrenal glands
• hair loss
• mood changes, such as irritability
• sweating more than usual
• weight changes
nephritis (inflammation in your kidneys)appetite loss
• bloody urine
• producing less urine than usual
pneumonitis (inflammation in your lungs)• chest pain
shortness of breath
type 1 diabetes• blurry vision
• needing to urinate more often than
• usual
• unusual hunger or thirst

What might help

Contact your doctor right away if you notice symptoms of an immune system reaction while using Yervoy. Depending on the reaction and your symptoms, your doctor may have you temporarily or permanently stop using Yervoy. They may also prescribe treatments for the reaction or your symptoms.

Some of these reactions may require you to take medications long term. But in many cases, short-term treatment should resolve the problem.

Allergic reaction

Like most drugs, Yervoy can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Symptoms can be mild or serious and can include:

  • skin rash
  • itchiness
  • flushing (temporary warmth, redness, or deepening of skin color)
  • swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe

What might help

If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. To help manage your symptoms, they may suggest an over-the-counter antihistamine you take by mouth, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Or they may recommend a product you apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream.

If your doctor confirms you had a mild allergic reaction to Yervoy, they’ll decide if you should continue using it.

If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.

If your doctor confirms you had a serious allergic reaction to Yervoy, they may have you switch to a different treatment.

Keeping track of side effects

During your Yervoy treatment, consider keeping notes on any side effects you’re having. Then, you can share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful to do when you first start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.

Your side effect notes can include things such as:

  • what dose of the drug you were taking when you had the side effect
  • how soon after starting that dose you had the side effect
  • what your symptoms were from the side effect
  • how it affected your daily activities
  • what other medications you were also taking
  • any additional information you feel is important

Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help your doctor learn more about how Yervoy affects you. And your doctor can use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.

Yervoy may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Talk with your doctor about your health history before you start Yervoy treatment. The list below includes factors to consider.

Autoimmune conditions. While it’s not common, Yervoy can cause your immune system to attack healthy cells in your body. If you have an autoimmune condition, Yervoy could make your condition worse. Examples include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and lupus. Tell your doctor about any autoimmune conditions you have. This will help them determine whether Yervoy is right for you.

History of organ transplant. Yervoy can cause the immune system to attack a transplanted organ. If you’ve received an organ transplant or are planning to have one, tell your doctor. They can let you know if Yervoy is safe for you to use.

Stem cell transplant. Yervoy can cause a serious condition called graft-versus-host disease in people who’ve received a certain kind of stem cell transplant. If you’ve had a stem cell transplant, or are planning to have one, tell your doctor. They can discuss the benefits and risks of using Yervoy for your condition.

Nervous system condition. If you have a nervous system condition, such as myasthenia gravis, Yervoy may worsen it. Tell your doctor about any such conditions you have. This will help them determine whether Yervoy is safe for you to use.

Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Yervoy or any of its ingredients, your doctor will likely not prescribe Yervoy. Ask your doctor what other medications are better options for you.

Alcohol use and Yervoy

There’s no known interaction between drinking alcohol and using Yervoy.

But alcohol could worsen certain side effects Yervoy may cause, such as fatigue (low energy), diarrhea, nausea, and headache.

Talk with your doctor about how much alcohol is safe for you to consume during Yervoy treatment.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding while receiving Yervoy

Yervoy is not safe to use while pregnant. Based on the way Yervoy works, it’s thought that the drug may harm a developing fetus. If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about other treatment options for your cancer.

If you can become pregnant, your doctor will give you a pregnancy test before prescribing Yervoy. You should also use birth control during Yervoy treatment and for at least 3 months after your last dose of the drug.

It’s not known if the drug can pass into human breast milk. But based on how the drug works, it’s possible that it could cause serious side effects in a child who is breastfeeding.

Your doctor will recommend that you not breastfeed while taking Yervoy. You’ll also need to avoid breastfeeding for at least 3 months following your last Yervoy dose. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to feed your child during Yervoy treatment.

Side effects are common with Yervoy. Most people who use the drug will have side effects, but these tend to be mild and may go away with time. And most mild side effects caused by the drug are treatable.

Serious side effects can happen with Yervoy. But most aren’t common, and they can often be treated. Certain side effects may require that you stop treatment with Yervoy temporarily or permanently.

Before starting Yervoy treatment, ask your doctor any questions you have about its side effects. Knowing what side effects the drug can cause may make you feel more confident about your treatment. Here are a few to get you started:

  • How often will I need lab tests to check for Yervoy’s side effects?
  • Do any medical conditions I have increase my risk of side effects from Yervoy?
  • If I become pregnant during Yervoy treatment, what should I do?

You should contact your doctor right away if you become pregnant during Yervoy treatment. The medication could cause harm.


Is it safe for older people to use Yervoy? Are side effects more common based on my age?



Yes, it’s safe for older people to use Yervoy.

Studies of Yervoy compared two groups of older people with younger people. In one group, people were ages 65 years and older. The other group included people ages 75 and older. Studies often include comparisons to identify any trends in side effects or responses to a medication.

The Yervoy studies found no differences in safety or effectiveness when comparing older people to younger people.

If you have any concerns about age-related side effects that Yervoy may cause, talk with your doctor.

Dena Westphalen, PharmDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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