What is Imfinzi?
If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor may suggest treatment with Imfinzi.
Imfinzi is prescribed to treat the following types of lung cancer in adults:
- small cell lung cancer (SCLC), the least common and most aggressive of the two main types of lung cancer
- non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer
To learn more about how Imfinzi is used, see the “What is Imfinzi used for?” section below.
Imfinzi is a brand-name drug. It’s a type of immunotherapy drug, which means it works with your immune system to attack cancer cells. The medication comes as a solution in a single-dose vial. Your healthcare provider will give you Imfinzi intravenously (as an injection into your vein).
Imfinzi contains the active drug durvalumab, which is a biologic medication. A biologic is made from parts of living organisms. Imfinzi is not available in a biosimilar form. (Biosimilars are like generic drugs. But unlike generics, which are made for nonbiologic drugs, biosimilars are made for biologic drugs.) Instead, durvalumab comes only as the brand-name drug Imfinzi.
Read on to learn more about Imfinzi, including how it works, its side effects, and more.
What are Imfinzi’s side effects?
Like most drugs, Imfinzi may cause mild or serious side effects. The lists below describe some of its more common side effects. These lists don’t include all possible side effects.
Keep in mind that side effects of a drug can depend on:
- your age
- how well your immune system is working
- other health conditions you have
- other medications you may be taking
Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about the potential side effects of Imfinzi. They can also suggest ways to help reduce side effects.
Mild side effects
Here’s a short list of some of the mild side effects that Imfinzi can cause. Side effects might differ slightly between people with small cell lung cancer and people with non-small cell lung cancer. To learn about other mild side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist, or read Imfinzi’s prescribing information.
Mild side effects reported with the use of Imfinzi include:
- fatigue (lack of energy)
- upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold
Mild side effects of many drugs may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. But if they become bothersome, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Serious side effects
Serious side effects from Imfinzi can occur, but they aren’t common. If you have serious side effects from Imfinzi, call your doctor right away. However, if you think you’re having a medical emergency, you should call 911 or your local emergency number.
Serious side effects reported with the use of Imfinzi include:
- pneumonitis* (inflammation of the lungs)
- hair loss
- allergic reaction*
immune system reactions, which can cause inflammation in your nerves, muscles, or joints, as well as in different organs, including:
- in your bowel, which is known as colitis
- in your kidney, which is known as nephritis
- in your liver, which is known as hepatitis
- in your eyes
- in your heart
* For more information on this side effect, see the “Side effect focus” section below.
Side effect focus
Learn more about some of the side effects Imfinzi may cause.
Imfinzi may cause a rash in some people. In studies, people receiving Imfinzi experienced different types of rash, including dermatitis (dry, swollen, and itchy skin) and other serious types of drug-related rash. These drug-related rashes can cause blisters and peeling. They can also cause sores in the mouth, nose, throat, or genital area. Keep in mind that a rash may also be a sign of an allergic reaction to Imfinzi.
Some people may develop a rash as a reaction to the intravenous (IV) infusion of Imfinzi, which is an injection into a vein over a period of time. This type of reaction occurs either during or shortly after you receive a medication by IV infusion.
What might help
If you develop a rash after treatment with Imfinzi, let your doctor know right away. Based on how serious your symptoms are, your doctor may need to treat the rash with medications. Your doctor will also determine whether you need to either pause or stop Imfinzi treatment.
While Imfinzi causes your immune system to fight cancer cells, it can also cause your immune system to attack healthy cells. This can lead to problems such as pneumonitis. With this condition, your lungs become inflamed. Symptoms of pneumonitis can include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
If you’re having a life-threatening reaction to Imfinzi (severe shortness of breath, chest pain) call 911 or your local emergency number.
In clinical studies, treatment was stopped in people who took Imfinzi and developed pneumonitis.
What might help
If you have symptoms of pneumonitis, your doctor may order tests, such as a chest X-ray, to check your lungs. They may also prescribe certain types of treatment, such as corticosteroids, to help reduce lung inflammation (swelling).
If you develop pneumonitis, your doctor may stop your Imfinzi treatment. In some cases, they may switch you to a different medication.
In some people, treatment with Imfinzi may cause hair loss. This is a common side effect of chemotherapy medications. Imfinzi may be used with chemotherapy drugs, which may increase the risk of hair loss.
Imfinzi may also cause thyroid disorders, which may cause hair loss, too.
In clinical studies, hair loss occurred in people receiving Imfinzi who were being treated for small cell lung cancer. Hair loss was less common in people receiving Imfinzi alone than in those who received Imfinzi plus chemotherapy.
What might help
If you’re experiencing hair loss, your doctor may order tests to determine its cause. Hair loss could be due to a different health condition, such as a thyroid condition.
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about hair loss with Imfinzi treatment. They can provide more information about this side effect.
While allergic reaction to Imfinzi wasn’t reported in studies of the medication, it can still happen. And keep in mind that drug-related rash is a side effect of Imfinzi.
Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction can include:
- skin rash
- flushing (warmth or redness/deepening of skin color for a brief time)
A more severe allergic reaction is rare but possible. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet. They can also include swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat, which can cause trouble breathing.
Call your doctor right away if you have an allergic reaction to Imfinzi. But if you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number.
What is Imfinzi used for?
Imfinzi is an immunotherapy treatment that’s used to treat certain types of lung cancer. Immunotherapy drugs work with your immune system to attack cancer cells.
Imfinzi is used to treat the following:
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC). SCLC is the least common and most aggressive of the two main types of lung cancer. Imfinzi is used as the first treatment for SCLC when cancer has spread throughout the lungs, to the chest, or to other areas of the body. Imfinzi is used together with a chemotherapy drug called etoposide. Imfinzi is also used with either cisplatin or carboplatin, both of which are chemotherapy drugs.
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. Imfinzi is used to treat stage 3 NSCLC that can’t be removed with surgery. The drug is used to treat cancer that hasn’t spread after treatment with radiation and chemotherapy drugs that contain platinum.
In studies, Imfinzi was found to be effective in treating these types of cancer. Ask your doctor for more information about Imfinzi’s use and effectiveness for the type of cancer you have.
What does Imfinzi cost?
Costs of prescription drugs can vary depending on many factors. These factors include what your insurance plan covers. To find current prices for Imfinzi in your area, visit GoodRx.com.
If you have questions about how to pay for your prescription, talk with your doctor. You can also visit the Imfinzi manufacturer’s website to see if there are support options.
How is Imfinzi given?
Here’s some information on how Imfinzi is given, dosage, and common questions you may have.
Imfinzi comes as a liquid solution in a single-dose vial. A healthcare provider gives the drug as an infusion, which is a type of intravenous (IV) injection. With IV injections, you receive a medication through a vein over a period of time. Imfinzi infusions take 60 minutes.
You can receive Imfinzi at your doctor’s office or a treatment clinic. You can’t give Imfinzi to yourself.
If you have other questions about how Imfinzi is administered, talk with your doctor.
Your dosage for Imfinzi is based on several factors:
- your weight
- the type of cancer you’re being treated for
- other medications you take
- your overall health
Imfinzi is typically given every 2, 3, or 4 weeks. Your doctor will help decide your treatment schedule and dosage based on your weight and overall health:
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC). For SCLC, you’ll receive Imfinzi as follows:
- If you weigh 30 kilograms (about 66 pounds) or more, you’ll likely receive Imfinzi every 3 weeks with two chemotherapy drugs. These are etoposide and either cisplatin or carboplatin. After that, you’ll receive Imfinzi by itself every 4 weeks.
- If you weigh less than 30 kilograms (kg), you’ll likely receive Imfinzi every 3 weeks with etoposide and either cisplatin or carboplatin. After that, your dose will be lowered, and you’ll receive Imfinzi on its own every 2 weeks.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). For stage 3 NSCLC, you’ll likely receive Imfinzi as follows:
- If you weigh 30 kg (about 66 pounds) or more, you’ll receive Imfinzi either every 2 or 4 weeks, depending on your dose.
- If you weigh less than 30 kg, you’ll receive your dose every 2 weeks.
Taking Imfinzi with other drugs
Imfinzi may be used with other drugs to treat your cancer. Your doctor will talk with you about all your medications and what to expect with each of them. For NSCLC, Imfinzi is used on its own. For SCLC, the medication is used with other chemotherapy drugs (etoposide and either cisplatin or carboplatin).
Questions about taking Imfinzi
Below are some common questions about using Imfinzi.
- What if I miss a dose of Imfinzi? Imfinzi is given by a healthcare provider as an intravenous (IV) infusion, which is an injection into a vein over a period of time. You’ll receive Imfinzi at your doctor’s office or a clinic. If you miss a scheduled dose, make sure to call the office right away to reschedule. Consider using a reminder tool, such as an app on your phone, to keep track of your appointments.
- Will I need to take Imfinzi long term? How long you can take Imfinzi depends on whether the drug is effective in treating your cancer. It also depends on any side effects you may have and other factors. For NSCLC, it’s recommended that you use Imfinzi for a maximum of 1 year. The length of time you will take Imfinzi for SCLC may vary. Your doctor will monitor your progress and keep you informed about your treatment plan. If you have questions about the timeline for your treatment, ask your doctor.
- Should I take Imfinzi with food? No interactions have been reported between Imfinzi and food. But nausea can be a side effect of Imfinzi. Ask your doctor about the best times to eat and drink to minimize nausea while you’re being treated with Imfinzi.
- How long does Imfinzi take to work? Imfinzi should start to work soon after you receive it, but exactly how quickly this might happen varies with each person. Your doctor will order regular blood tests and other tests to see how well the drug is working. These test results will help your doctor determine your treatment progress and prognosis.
Questions for your doctor
You may have questions about Imfinzi and your treatment plan. It’s important to discuss all your concerns with your doctor.
Here are a few tips that might help guide your discussion:
- Before your appointment, write down questions such as:
- How will Imfinzi affect my body, mood, or lifestyle?
- Bring someone with you to your appointment if doing so will help you feel more comfortable.
- If you don’t understand something related to your condition or treatment, ask your doctor to explain it to you.
Remember, your doctor and other healthcare providers are here to help you. And they want you to get the best care possible. So don’t be afraid to ask questions or offer feedback on your treatment.
What are some frequently asked questions about Imfinzi?
Find answers below to some commonly asked questions about Imfinzi.
How does Imfinzi work?
Imfinzi is a type of drug called a programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitor. PD-L1 is a type of protein in your body. It prevents T-cells in the body from recognizing and attacking cancer cells. (T-cells are white blood cells that fight disease.)
This process allows the cancer to grow. PD-L1 inhibitors, such as Imfinzi, block the action of PD-L1. When PD-L1 can’t act, your body is able to attack the cancer cells.
If you’d like to learn more about how Imfinzi works, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
How long does Imfinzi stay in your system and work?
Imfinzi stays in your system for about 3 months after you receive an infusion of the drug. (An infusion is treatment you receive through a needle or tube.)
During this time, Imfinzi is slowly released as it keeps working in your body. Because of the length of time the drug stays in your system, it’s important to tell all your healthcare providers, including your pharmacist, about your Imfinzi treatment. This will help avoid any drug interactions with other medications you might be prescribed.
For more information about how long Imfinzi works, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Is Imfinzi used for head and neck cancer?
Yes, Imfinzi may be used off-label to treat head and neck cancer. Off-label treatment is the use of a medication for a purpose other than what it’s approved to treat. Some studies have shown that Imfinzi is effective for treating head and neck cancer, while other studies haven’t. More research is needed. If you’d like to learn about the studies and Imfinzi’s use, talk with your doctor.
Keep in mind that your insurance may not cover off-label drug use. Before you start treatment with Imfinzi for head and neck cancer, talk with your doctor and insurance company about whether your plan will cover the drug for this use.
What should I know about Imfinzi vs. Keytruda?
Imfinzi and Keytruda are both prescription immunotherapy drugs used to treat certain types of cancer. (Immunotherapy drugs work with your immune system to treat certain conditions.)
Both drugs have some similarities and some differences. Keytruda is approved to treat more types of cancer than Imfinzi.
To learn more about how these medications compare, see “Imfinzi vs. Keytruda: What You Should Know.”
What should I know about Imfinzi vs. Tecentriq?
Imfinzi and Tecentriq are both prescription drugs used to treat certain kinds of cancer. They have similarities and some differences. Tecentriq is approved to treat more types of cancer than Imfinzi.
For information on how these two medications are similar and different, see “Imfinzi vs. Tecentriq: What You Should Know.”
What should be considered before taking Imfinzi?
Before starting treatment with Imfinzi, ask your doctor how the drug will affect you. They’ll typically talk with you about all your medications, your overall health, and any other medical conditions you have that might impact your treatment.
Taking medications, vaccines, foods, and other things with a certain drug can affect how the drug works. These effects are called interactions.
There have been no reported interactions between Imfinzi and other drugs, herbs, or supplements.
However, before receiving Imfinzi, be sure to tell your doctor about all medications you take, including prescription and over-the-counter types. Also describe any vitamins, herbs, or supplements you use. Your doctor can tell you about any interactions these items may cause with Imfinzi.
Imfinzi 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 receive Imfinzi. Factors to consider include the following:
- Autoimmune disorders. Imfinzi treatment may worsen some types of autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or lupus. If you have any autoimmune conditions, ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to receive Imfinzi.
- Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Imfinzi or any of its ingredients, you shouldn’t receive Imfinzi. Ask your doctor if other medications might be better for you.
- Organ transplant. Treatment with Imfinzi may cause problems if you’ve had an organ transplant. Imfinzi can cause your body to harm the new organ. If you’ve had an organ transplant, talk with your doctor about whether Imfinzi treatment is safe for you.
- Breathing or liver problems. Although rare, treatment with Imfinzi can cause side effects, including damage to your lungs or liver. If you have breathing or lung problems, talk with your doctor about whether Imfinzi is safe for you.
- Infection. Certain infections need to be healed before you can safely start receiving Imfinzi. Be sure your doctor is aware of any active infections you may have before beginning Imfinzi treatment.
Use with alcohol
Drinking alcohol during your Imfinzi treatment may increase the number of drug side effects and how severe they are. These can include:
- liver damage
Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to drink alcohol while receiving Imfinzi.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It isn’t safe to have Imfinzi if you’re pregnant. This is because immunotherapy drugs, such as Imfinzi, may cause your immune system to harm a pregnancy. (Immunotherapy drugs work with your immune system to treat certain conditions.) If you’re able to become pregnant, your doctor will order a pregnancy test for you before you start treatment with Imfinzi.
It’s important to use birth control while receiving Imfinzi and for 3 months after you stop treatment. If you’re pregnant or considering pregnancy, ask your doctor about other options that might be right for you. And if you become pregnant while having Imfinzi, talk with your doctor right away.
There have been no statements from Imfinzi’s manufacturer about whether males* receiving this drug need to use birth control. If you have questions about your birth control needs, talk with your doctor.
It’s not known if Imfinzi can be passed into breast milk, so you shouldn’t breastfeed your child while receiving Imfinzi. Be sure not to breastfeed until at least 3 months have passed since your last dose of Imfinzi. If you’re breastfeeding, talk with your doctor about treatment options other than Imfinzi.
* In this article, we use the term “male” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.
* In this article, we use the term “male” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.
What to ask your doctor
Imfinzi is an immunotherapy treatment for certain types of lung cancer. Immunotherapy drugs work with your immune system to attack cancer cells. Imfinzi may be given alone or with other cancer treatments.
Before starting treatment with Imfinzi, ask your doctor about what you can expect. Here are a few questions for you to consider:
- How long will it take Imfinzi to work?
- Will Imfinzi cure my cancer?
- What should I know when I first start Imfinzi treatment?
- How will Imfinzi affect my quality of life?
You can also learn more about treatment options with the help of these articles:
- Postsurgical Lung Cancer Treatment Options
- Integrative Medicine for Lung Cancer
- What to Ask Your Doctor About Treating Advanced Bladder Cancer
Ask a pharmacist
Can I get vaccines while I’m receiving Imfinzi?
You should talk with your doctor before getting any vaccines while you’re being treated with Imfinzi.
Imfinzi is an immunotherapy drug. This means it works with your immune system to attack cancer cells. But it isn’t known whether Imfinzi will also affect how your immune system reacts to a vaccine.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about your vaccination needs before you begin receiving Imfinzi. And check with them before you get any vaccine during your Imfinzi treatment.
Alex Brewer, PharmD, MBAAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.