Immunotherapy for cervical cancer

Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system's ability to fight cancer. This works to kill cancer cells and stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.

Immunotherapy is sometimes used to treat cervical cancer that comes back (recurs) after it has been treated. If you have immunotherapy, your healthcare team will use what they know about the cancer and about your health to plan the drugs, doses and schedules.

The immune system normally stops itself from attacking healthy cells in the body by using specific proteins called checkpoints. Checkpoints slow down or stop an immune system response. Some cervical cancer cells can use these checkpoints to hide and avoid being attacked by the immune system. Immune checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking the checkpoint proteins so immune system cells (called T-cells) attack and kill the cancer cells.

The immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitor drugs used for cervical cancer are cemiplimab (Libtayo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda). These drugs target the PD-L1 checkpoint.

Cemiplimab is offered for recurrent cervical cancer if:

  • chemotherapy was already used to treat metastatic cervical cancer, but it didn't respond
  • the cancer has come back after being treated with chemotherapy

Pembrolizumab may also be offered for recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer in combination with chemotherapy. You may also receive the targeted therapy drug bevacizumab (Avastin).

Side effects of immunotherapy

Side effects of immunotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug or drug combination, the dose, how it's given and your overall health. Tell your healthcare team if you have side effects that you think might be from immunotherapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Cemiplimab may cause these side effects:

Find out more about immunotherapy

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about immunotherapy.

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Expert review and references