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Pembrolizumab for Hepatocellular Carcinoma – Adjuvant


Cancer and Palliative Care

August 2021

Pembrolizumab is in clinical development as an adjuvant treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC is the most common type of liver cancer. This type of cancer develops from the main liver cells, called hepatocytes. Treatment and survival depends on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. HCC is more common in people who have long-term damage to the liver (cirrhosis) due to a viral infection or excessive alcohol intake. It is also more likely to develop in men than in women and it becomes more common as people get older. Surgical resection or local ablation are the primary treatments for HCC although this may require adjuvant treatments to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. There are currently limited adjuvant treatment options for HCC.
Pembrolizumab, administered by intravenous infusion (injection into the vein), is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Pembrolizumab targets and blocks a protein called PD-L1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T-cells. Blocking the PD-L1 protein allows the T-cells to find and kill the cancer cells. Pembrolizumab is already widely approved and in use in a range cancer types (melanoma, non-small-cell lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, etc) and in various settings (e.g. first line, adjuvant etc). Therefore, if licensed, pembrolizumab would offer an adjuvant treatment option for the treatment of HCC.

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