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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Gemcitabine (Gemzar®)


Brand Name: Gemzar®

Gemcitabine is used to treat cancers of the ovary, pancreas, lung, and breast.

Gemcitabine belongs to a class of drugs known as antimetabolites, and resembles a normal cell nutrient that cancer cells need to grow. Because of this resemblance, cancer cells “ingest” gemcitabine, which then interferes with their growth.

This medication is given as an injection into a vein (intravenously). Usually, gemcitabine is given once weekly for several weeks. Each injection takes about 30 minutes to complete. The duration of treatment may depend on several factors, including the type of cancer being treated, how well the drug is working, and your ability to tolerate the medication. Your doctor will recommend the dose and schedule that is appropriate for you.

Gemcitabine side effects

To prevent problematic interactions between gemcitabine and other drugs, be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medications, and what other medications and supplements you are currently taking. You should also inform your doctor if you have or ever had a liver tumor, liver disease, or kidney disease, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding. Gemcitabine should not be taken during breastfeeding. You should not receive a live vaccine while taking gemcitabine, or be exposed to someone who has recently received a live vaccine. In general, it’s best to avoid being near anyone who is sick or has an infection.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Mild nausea, vomiting, or upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Swelling in hands, feet, or ankles
  • Skin rash
  • Numbness or tingly sensation
  • Drowsiness
  • Hair loss

Some of gemcitabine’s side effects can be serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Pale skin
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Unusual weakness
  • Decreased or nonexistent urination
  • Yellowing of the eyes
  • Nausea, upper stomach pain, loss of appetite
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Chest pain or heaviness
  • Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of body
  • Sore throat, fever, chills, or other signs of infection
  • Pain, swelling, or skin changes where needle was inserted
  • Blood in urine
  • Hearing problems
  • Mouth sores or white patches
  • Breathing problems

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. Patients may experience additional effects not mentioned above.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), your team of cancer experts will explain each of the side effects of gemcitabine with you in detail, as well as the side effects and expectations of all other medications planned as part of your individualized treatment plan.

Gemcitabine for cancer treatment

Gemcitabine is approved by the FDA for the following cancer treatments:

  • In combination with paclitaxel for the initial treatment of metastatic breast cancer that has worsened after previous anthracycline-containing adjuvant chemotherapy (unless anthracyclines were not a treatment option)
  • In combination with cisplatin for the initial treatment of inoperable, locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer
  • As an initial treatment for locally advanced or metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas
  • As a treatment for adenocarcinoma of the pancreas in patients who have already been treated with 5-fluorouracil
    In combination with carboplatin for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer that has relapsed at least 6 months after completion of a chemotherapy regimen that included a platinum drug

At CTCA, our integrative approach to cancer treatment works to fight your disease on all fronts and ensures that you remain at the center of everything we do. We encourage participation from both you and your family to make certain you are comfortable with all decisions made regarding your treatment.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.