Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023 | Last updated: May 2023
Bavencio® (avelumab) is an immunotherapy drug approved to treat certain forms of advanced or metastatic (has spread to other parts of the body) bladder cancer. Avelumab is delivered through an intravenous (IV) infusion. Most patients receive treatment with avelumab every two weeks and each infusion lasts for about an hour.1
How does avelumab work?
Like other immunotherapy drugs, avelumab works by helping a patient’s immune system work more effectively to fight cancer cells. The immune system is a collection of organs and cells that work together to protect the body from diseases and infections, including cancer cells.1,2
What is a PD-L1 inhibitor?
Avelumab is called a PD-L1 inhibitor, which is a type of immunotherapy treatment for advanced or metastatic bladder cancer as well as other cancers. Avelumab helps block the PD-L1 protein, which can enable cancer cells to disguise themselves from the immune system’s protective functions.
When PD-L1 proteins enable cancer cells to hide from the immune system, the cancer cells can grow more easily because they are not being targeted and attacked by immune system cells. By blocking the disguising function of the PD-L1 proteins, PD-L1 inhibitors, such as avelumab can help a patient’s immune system to fight the cancer cells more effectively.
During the clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatment with avelumab in patients with advanced or metastatic bladder cancer, some patients’ tumors became smaller after treatment.
Who can receive avelumab?
Avelumab may be used for patients with certain forms of advanced or metastatic bladder cancer that has spread beyond the bladder and/or to other parts of the body. Healthcare providers can provide more information about whether treatment with avelumab may be appropriate for a specific patient’s bladder cancer.1
However, it is generally used to treat patients who have already tried treatment with chemotherapy that contains platinum, but the cancer has since gotten worse. Or it may be used as an ongoing treatment for patients who received chemotherapy that contains platinum as an initial treatment and the cancer did not worsen.1
Reporting health conditions
Healthcare providers need to know if a patient has certain types of health conditions before prescribing avelumab. Patients should tell their healthcare provider about all their health conditions, especially:1,2
- Immune system problems, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Having had an organ transplant
- Lung or breathing problems
- Liver or kidney problems
- Endocrine disorders such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or adrenal gland problems
If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed, talk with your doctor. Avelumab can cause harm to a developing fetus and should not be given to people who are pregnant.1,2
While receiving avelumab, people who can become pregnant should use contraceptives during treatment and for a period of time after completing treatment (patients should discuss appropriate birth control methods, and how long they need to use them, with their doctor). Do not breastfeed during avelumab treatment and for a period of time following the final dose (patients should discuss breastfeeding considerations with their doctor).1,2
What are the possible side effects of avelumab?
In people treated with avelumab for advanced or metastatic bladder cancer, the most commonly reported side effects include:1
- Infusion-related reactions
- Muscle and bone pain
- Decreased appetite
- Urinary tract infections
More serious side effects
Avelumab can affect healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can cause some serious side effects in some patients. It is important to speak with your healthcare provider about all of the possible benefits and serious side effects that treatment with avelumab can cause.1
Before you begin treatment, your healthcare provider will also discuss the symptoms of the severe side effects so that you can recognize them and seek treatment as early as possible. These serious side effects can include:1
- Lung problems
- Liver problems
- Intestinal problems
- Hormone gland problems
- Kidney problems
- Problems in other organs
- Severe infusion reactions
If you experience any of the symptoms of severe side effects, let your healthcare provider know immediately. Immediate treatment can potentially help keep the side effects from getting worse.
These are not all the possible side effects of avelumab. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking avelumab. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking avelumab.
Before beginning treatment for bladder cancer, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.