Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023 | Last updated: June 2023
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves different kinds of therapies. The type of treatment can depend on different factors. These may include your overall health and personal preferences. You can work with your doctor to decide which treatment options are best for you.1
One treatment option for ovarian cancer is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses medicine to stimulate your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.2
How do immunotherapy drugs work?
Your immune system has “checkpoints” to keep itself from attacking the healthy cells in your body. These checkpoints are actually proteins on your immune cells that can be turned on or off to trigger an immune response.2
Sometimes, cancer cells take advantage of these checkpoints so that the immune system will not attack them. When that happens, immunotherapy drugs can block the checkpoint proteins. This allows the immune system to attack and destroy the cancer cells.2
Examples of immunotherapy drugs
As of 2023, Keytruda® (pembrolizumab) and Jemperli® (dostarlimab) are the only immunotherapy drugs that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain forms of ovarian cancer.3-5
Keytruda targets a protein on immune cells that stops the cells from attacking other cells in the body. When Keytruda blocks this protein, the immune cells can attack the cancer cells. This can help shrink tumors or slow down the growth of cancer.2
Keytruda is often used for people who have:2
- High levels of microsatellite instability (MSI)
- Changes in the mismatch repair (MMR) genes
- Many DNA changes (mutations) in their tumor
- Tried chemotherapy or other drug treatments and their cancer continues to grow
Jemperli works similarly to Keytruda. In tumors, immune cells have a protein on them that prevents them from attacking the cancer. Jemperli attaches to this protein and blocks it. This allows the immune cells to activate and destroy the cancer cells.3,5
Jemperli is used as a treatment for people whose cancer worsened or did not improve after trying other treatments and who do not have any other treatment options.3,5
What are the possible side effects?
Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking. Common side effects of immunotherapy drugs may include:4,5
- Low white blood cells
These are not all the possible side effects of immunotherapy drugs. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking immunotherapy drugs. You also should contact your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking immunotherapy drugs.
Other things to know
Immunotherapy may not be right for everyone. Talk to your doctor about what treatment options are best for you and the possible side effects, risks, and benefits of these drugs.
Immunotherapy drugs can harm an unborn baby. If you or your partner can become pregnant, use birth control during treatment and for some time after the last dose of immunotherapy drugs. Do not breastfeed during treatment with immunotherapy and for some time after the last dose. Talk to your doctor about your options for birth control and breastfeeding while you are on immunotherapy drugs.4,5
Before beginning treatment for ovarian cancer, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.