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What to Expect After Immunotherapy for Melanoma

Side effects from immunotherapy can be severe, but usually improve after the treatment is finished.

Potential side effects of anti-CTLA-4 therapy

The anti-CTLA-4 drug Yervoy (ipilimumab) can cause side effects such as: 

  • Feeling tired

  • Skin rash

  • Itching 

  • Diarrhea

  • Severe inflammation (swelling) in the intestines, liver, skin, nerves, eyes, or other organs

  • Allergic reactions during drug infusion 

Potential side effects of cytokine therapy

Cytokines include interferon alpha and interleukin-2 (IL-2). Here are some of the more common side effects of cytokine therapy:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Aches

  • Depression

  • Low blood cell counts

  • Fatigue (severe tiredness)

  • Stomach upset

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

Some side effects are specific to different cytokines. For example, high doses of IL-2 can cause low blood pressure and large amounts of fluid to build up in the body. High doses of interferon alpha can cause more severe forms of many of the side effects above, as well as effects on the heart and liver. Patients getting these treatments often need to be monitored closely.  

Potential side effects of vaccines

Vaccines have not yet been approved to treat melanoma, but the side effects seen in clinical trials so far have tended to be mild. Side effects may depend on the specific vaccine, but in general they may include: 

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Redness at the injection site

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara M., RN, MPH
Last Review Date: 2/18/2013
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.