Highlights for gemcitabine
Gemcitabine is an injectable drug used to treat ovarian, breast, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
This drug is given through a needle in your vein. The medication is given to you by your doctor or nurse in their office or at a hospital.
It’s very important to keep all of your appointments to receive gemcitabine. If you miss an appointment, call your doctor right away to reschedule your infusion.
You shouldn’t take gemcitabine if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Ask your doctor to tell you about the specific harm that may be done to the fetus.
Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, weakness, anemia (low red blood cells), fever, rash, edema (swelling), fatigue and flu-like symptoms, infection, and hair loss.
Gemcitabine is a prescription drug. It’s available as a solution for injection, which is only given by a healthcare provider.
This drug may be used as part of a combination therapy. That means you need to take it with other drugs.
Why it's used
Gemcitabine is used to treat ovarian, breast, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
How it works
Gemcitabine belongs to a class of drugs called nucleoside metabolic inhibitors.
gemcitabine Side Effects
Most Common Side Effects
The most common side effects that occur with gemcitabine include:
low white blood cell count
protein or blood in your urine
fatigue and flu-like symptoms
If these effects are mild, they may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Serious Side Effects
If you experience any of these serious side effects, call your doctor right away. If your symptoms are potentially life threatening, or if you think you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.
Liver problems. Symptoms include:
- swelling and pain in your stomach
- swelling in your ankles and legs
- yellowing of your skin or whites of your eyes
- itchy skin
- pale or bloody, tar-colored stool
- dark-colored urine
- loss of appetite
- bruising easily
Low blood cell counts:
- low red blood cell count. Symptoms
- pale skin
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- low white blood cell count. This may
be caused by an infection. Symptoms include:
- cough that won’t go away
- sore throat
- low platelet count:
- bleeding that takes longer to stop or won’t stop
- bruising easily
- low red blood cell count. Symptoms include:
Gemcitabine doesn’t cause drowsiness.
gemcitabine May Interact with Other Medications
Gemcitabine can interact with other medications, herbs, or vitamins you might be taking. Your healthcare provider will look out for interactions with your current medications. Always be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, herbs or vitamins you’re taking.
How to Take gemcitabine (Dosage)
Your doctor will determine a dose that’s right for you based on your individual needs. Your general health may affect your dose. Tell your doctor about all health conditions you have before your doctor or nurse administers the drug to you.
Gemcitabine comes with serious risks if you don’t take it as prescribed.
If you don’t take it at all
If you don’t receive your gemcitabine infusion, your cancer may return.
If you skip or miss doses or appointments
If you miss a dose, stop taking it, or don’t receive your gemcitabine as scheduled, the drug may not work as well to treat your cancer.
If you take too much
Taking too much gemcitabine can cause the following symptoms:
- increased risk of low blood cell counts which can raise your chance for infections
- prickly pins and needles sensation
- severe rash
If you think that you’ve received too much gemcitabine, tell your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.
What to do if you miss a dose/appointment
This medication is given in cycles. If you miss an appointment, call your doctor right away to reschedule it.
How to tell the drug is working
You may not be able to tell if this medication is working. Your doctor will do blood tests and scans to see how your cancer is responding to treatment.
Gemcitabine is a short-term drug treatment.
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Content developed in collaboration with University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group
Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on August 18, 2015