Gemcitabine | Side Effects, Dosage, Uses & More
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Generic Name:

gemcitabine, Injectable solution

All Brands

  • Gemzar
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Highlights for gemcitabine

Injectable solution
1

Gemcitabine is an injectable drug used to treat ovarian, breast, lung, and pancreatic cancers.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

Decreased blood cells

Gemcitabine can lower your blood cell counts, which may increase your risk for complications. Your risk may be higher if you also take other medicines for cancer. Your doctor will check your blood cells before you start each cycle. They may give you a lower dose or not give you gemcitabine at all if your blood cell levels are too low.

Lung problems

Gemcitabine may cause serious lung and breathing problems during and for 2 weeks after stopping treatment. In some cases, these lung issues can be fatal. If you have new or worsening breathing issues or lung problems, your doctor may stop gemcitabine. 

Radiation therapy

Gemcitabine shouldn’t be used at the same time as or within 7 days of radiation therapy. This is to prevent severe and life-threatening inflammation of your digestive tract (mucositis).

Liver damage

Liver damage, including liver failure and death, has been reported in some people who take gemcitabine. It should be used cautiously in people who have existing liver disease.

Drug features

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.

More Details

How it works

Gemcitabine belongs to a class of drugs called nucleoside metabolic inhibitors. A class of drugs refers to medications that work similarly. They have a similar chemical structure and are often used to treat similar conditions.

Gemcitabine interferes with cellular processes that allow cancer cells to grow. This medication works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells in your body.

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gemcitabine Side Effects

Injectable solution

Most Common Side Effects

The most common side effects that occur with gemcitabine include:

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • anemia

  • low white blood cell count

  • protein or blood in your urine

  • fever

  • rash

  • trouble breathing

  • fluid retention

  • fatigue and flu-like symptoms

  • infection

  • hair loss

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
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • loss of appetite
    • tiredness
    • bruising easily
  • Low blood cell counts:

    • low red blood cell count. Symptoms include:
      • pale skin
      • tiredness
      • dizziness or lightheadedness
    • low white blood cell count. This may be caused by an infection. Symptoms include:
      • fever
      • cough that won’t go away
      • sore throat
    • low platelet count:
      • bleeding that takes longer to stop or won’t stop
      • bruising easily
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Gemcitabine doesn’t cause drowsiness.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
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gemcitabine May Interact with Other Medications

Injectable solution

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.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.
Gemcitabine warnings
liver problems
People with liver problems

This drug can worsen your liver disease if your cancer has spread to your liver or if you have a history of hepatitis, alcoholism, or liver cirrhosis. Your doctor will monitor your liver before starting and during treatment with gemcitabine. If your liver becomes severely damaged during treatment, your doctor will stop the medication.

pregnant women
Pregnant women

Gemcitabine is a category D pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in humans has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. This drug should only be used during pregnancy in serious cases where it's needed to treat a dangerous condition in the mother.

Talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Ask your doctor to tell you about the specific harm that may be done to the fetus. This drug should be only used if the potential risk to the fetus is acceptable given the drug’s potential benefit.

breastfeeding
Women who are breast-feeding

Gemcitabine may pass into breast milk. It can cause serious effects in a breastfeeding child.

You and your doctor may need to decide if you’ll take gemcitabine or breastfeed.

for seniors
For seniors

It may take longer for this drug to be cleared by your body. The rate of some side effects, such as low white blood cells and red blood cells, might be higher.

for children
For children

The safety and effectiveness of gemcitabine haven’t been established in people younger than 18 years old.

allergies
Allergies

Gemcitabine can cause a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:

  • trouble breathing
  • swelling of your throat or tongue
  • hives

Don’t take this drug again if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to it. Taking it again could be fatal.

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How to Take gemcitabine (Dosage)

Injectable solution

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.    

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

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.

This drug is given on a schedule

It is given in 3-week to 4-week cycles.

It’s typically administered on selected days of a 3-week or 4-week cycle. For example, for breast cancer, it’s given on days 1 and 8 in a 21-day cycle.  

How long does it take?

It takes 30 minutes to receive. Your infusion may take longer if you’re receiving other medications as well.

Your appointment may take longer than the time needed for your infusion. Your doctor may need to wait for lab test results and prepare the drug before your infusion. Your doctor may also have you stay for a while after infusion to monitor you for reactions.

Check with your doctor’s office to make sure that you allow enough time for your appointment.

Can I drive home after?

You may not be able to drive after you receive it. You may need a ride home after receiving an infusion of gemcitabine. This medication can make you feel tired, weak, or ill.

Travel

Talk to your doctor when you plan a trip. Your infusions need to be given at your doctor’s office or a clinic. It’s very important to stay on schedule with your infusions. You may need to plan your travel around your gemcitabine schedule.

Clinical monitoring

Your doctor may monitor you. Before starting and during treatment with gemcitabine, your doctor may check your:

  • blood cell counts, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets
  • kidney function
  • liver function

Insurance

Many insurance companies will require a prior authorization before they approve the prescription and pay for gemcitabine.

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How Much Does gemcitabine Cost?

Injectable solution

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These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for gemcitabine on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

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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

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.
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