Nivolumab (Opdivo®) Adjuvant Therapy

Even after successfully removing melanoma through surgery, patients may be at risk for melanoma coming back. Nivolumab (Opdivo) in the adjuvant setting reduces this risk by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight any remaining cancer cells.

In December 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of nivolumab for the treatment of melanoma patients with lymph node involvement or metastatic disease who have undergone complete resection. Treatment after surgery is known as adjuvant therapy.  The goal of nivolumab as adjuvant therapy is to reduce the risk of melanoma coming back after surgery.

Patients with Stage III melanoma usually undergo surgery to remove the primary melanoma and the nearby lymph nodes. With nivolumab as adjuvant therapy after surgery, patients can reduce their risk of melanoma returning or improving what doctor’s call recurrence-free survival (RFS).

The FDA approved the use of nivolumab in the adjuvant setting based on results from the CheckMate-238 trial. In this study, nivolumab significantly improved recurrence-free survival at 18 months by 13% when compared to ipilimumab in patients with resected Stage III or Stage IV melanoma. Compared to ipilimumab, nivolumab led to fewer serious treatment-related toxicities, including those that require treatment discontinuation.

Learn more about adjuvant therapy for high-risk melanoma (stages IIB, IIC, III and IV).

What Is Nivolumab (Opdivo)?

Nivolumab blocks the activity of a molecule called PD-1, a protein that prevents T cells (white blood cells that help your body fight disease) from recognizing and attacking inflamed tissues and cancer cells. PD-1 can trick your immune system into overlooking melanoma cells as normal cells.

In addition to its use for the adjuvant therapy of melanoma, nivolumab is used to treat advanced melanoma that is unresectable or has spread to organs and other parts of the body.  Learn more about the use of nivolumab for advanced melanoma.

How Is Adjuvant Nivolumab (Opdivo) Given?

Patients receive nivolumab intravenously (into a blood vein).

  • Each dose takes about 60 minutes to complete.
  • Patients usually receive nivolumab every two weeks for up to 1 year. Your doctor will determine how many treatments are needed.
  • Nivolumab is given on an outpatient basis without the need for a hospital stay.

What Are the Goals of Adjuvant Nivolumab (Opdivo)?

In the adjuvant setting, the goal of Nivolumab is to reduce the risk of melanoma returning following surgery.

What Should I Ask My Doctor About Adjuvant Nivolumab (Opdivo)?

Not all treatments work for all patients, because everyone is different. If you are interested in learning more about nivolumab, here are some questions you should ask your physicians:

  • Will my melanoma tumor be tested for BRAF genetic mutations?
  • Am I eligible for nivolumab?
  • What is your experience with nivolumab?
  • Is nivolumab a good option for my melanoma treatment?
  • Is there an alternative to nivolumab for me?
  • How successful has nivolumab been for patients like me?
  • What are the side effects of nivolumab?
  • Are there any clinical trials for nivolumab that I should consider?
  • What other treatments are FDA-approved for adjuvant therapy of melanoma?
  • What are the risks and benefits of the available treatment options?
  • What are the goals for my treatment?

Need Help Paying for Nivolumab (Opdivo)?

Patient Assistant Programs (PAPs) are designed so that you still have access to the treatments you need, in any financial circumstance. Learn more about the manufacturer’s patient assistance program and other options here.

Manufacturer’s Patient Assistance

Latest Treatments for Melanoma

Learn more about the latest, most effective treatments for patients who have melanoma:

Melanoma Research

The Melanoma Research Alliance is the largest, non-profit funder of melanoma research worldwide. Since 2007, we have directly funded over $131 million in innovative grants to improve prevention, detection, and treatment of melanoma. We have also leveraged an additional $415 million in outside funds for research. Learn more about our funded research.

Last updated: August, 2021