Gemcitabine

Gemcitabine treats certain types of cancer. Gemcitabine can cause low blood cell counts. Tell your doctor if you notice any sign of infection such as fever.

Gemcitabine Overview

Updated: 

Gemcitabine is a prescription medication used to treat a variety of cancers including breast, ovarian, lung, and pancreatic cancers. Gemcitabine belongs to a group of drugs called nucleoside metabolic inhibitors. It works by killing cancer cells and preventing their growth.

This medication comes in an injectable form and is given through a vein (intravenously) by a healthcare provider.

Common side effects of gemcitabine include nausea, flu-like symptoms, and fever.

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Gemcitabine Cautionary Labels

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Uses of Gemcitabine

Gemcitabine is a prescription medication used in the treatment of:

  • Ovarian cancer in combination with carboplatin
  • Breast cancer in combination with paclitaxel
  • Non-small cell lung cancer in combination with cisplatin
  • Pancreatic cancer as a single-agent (without other medicines)

This medication may be prescribed for other uses. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Gemcitabine Brand Names

Gemcitabine may be found in some form under the following brand names:

Gemcitabine Drug Class

Gemcitabine is part of the drug class:

Side Effects of Gemcitabine

Serious side effects have been reported. See "Gemcitabine Precautions" section.

The most common side effects of gemcitabine are:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fever
  • anemia
  • temporary hair loss
  • increased liver enzymes
  • leukopenia (low levels of white blood cells called leukocytes)
  • neutropenia (low levels of white blood cells called neutrophils)
  • pain
  • decreased blood platelets
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • bleeding
  • mouth sores
  • rash
  • drowsiness

This is not a complete list of this medication’s side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088

Gemcitabine Interactions

Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Especially tell your doctor if you:

  • have recently received a live vaccine
  • are taking a "blood thinner" called Coumadin (Warfarin)
  • are taking aspirin

This is not a complete list of gemcitabine drug interactions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

 

Gemcitabine Precautions

You should not take gemcitabine if you are allergic to gemcitabine (the active ingredient) or any inactive ingredients.

Serious side effects have been reported including:
  • low blood cell counts. Tell your doctor right away if you develop symptoms including:
    • fever
    • prolonged or unexpected bleeding
    • bruising
    • shortness of breath
  • severe lung damage including respiratory failure and death. Tell your doctor right away if you develop shortness of breath, wheezing, or cough.
  • kidney damage. Your doctor may monitor your kidney function while you are receiving this medication.
  • liver damage including liver failure and death. Contact your doctor if you develop pain or tenderness in upper right stomach area and yellowing of skin or whites of eyes.

Gemcitabine Food Interactions

Medicines can interact with certain foods. In some cases, this may be harmful and your doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods. In the case of gemcitabine there are no specific foods that you must exclude from your diet.

Inform MD

Before receiving this medication, tell your doctor if you:

  • are allergic to gemcitabine or any other medicines
  • have kidney or liver disease
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have an infection
  • have neutropenia (low white blood cell count)

Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. 

Gemcitabine and Pregnancy

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

The FDA categorizes medications based on safety for use during pregnancy. Five categories - A, B, C, D, and X, are used to classify the possible risks to an unborn baby when a medication is taken during pregnancy.

This medication falls into category D. In animal studies, pregnant animals were given this medication and had some babies born with problems. No well-controlled studies have been done in humans. There is a possibility that gemcitabine can cause harm to the unborn baby when given to a pregnant woman.

Gemcitabine and Lactation

Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if gemcitabine is excreted in human breast milk or if it will harm your nursing baby.

Gemcitabine Usage

Gemcitabine is given intravenously (IV) usually at your doctor's office or clinic.

The medication is given through an IV, usually over a period of approximately 30 minutes.

  • 3-Week Schedule
    • Depending on the type of cancer being treated, gemcitabine is usually given on days 1 and 8 of each 21-day cycle.
  • 4-Week Schedule
    • Gemcitabine may also be given on days 1, 8, and 15 of each 28-day cycle.
    • Often another cancer drug is given in combination with gemcitabine.
 

Gemcitabine Dosage

The gemcitabine dose your doctor recommends will be based on the following:

  • the cancer you have
  • other medical conditions you have
  • other medications you are taking
  • how you respond to this medication
  • your weight
  • your height

Pancreatic Cancer

  • 1000 mg/m2 IV infusion over 30 minutes once/week x7 weeks; rest 1 week, THEN
  • Repeat cycle 3 consecutive weeks out of every 4 weeks

Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

  • 1000 mg/m2 IV infusion over 30 minutes on days 1, 8, & 15 of each 28-day cycle, OR
  • 1250 mg/m2 IV infusion over 30 minutes on days 1 & 8 of each 21-day cycle

Breast Cancer

  • 1250 mg/m2 IV infusion over 30 minutes on Days 1 & 8 of each 21-day cycle

Ovarian Cancer

  • 1000 mg/m2 IV infusion over 30 minutes on Days 1 & 8 of each 21-day cycle

 

Gemcitabine Overdose

Gemcitabine is usually administered by a healthcare provider in a medical setting making it unlikely for an overdose to occur. However, the dose is calculated based on body surface area, which is calculated using height and weight. Thus, too much of the drug could be given if a miscalculation is made.

Symptoms of an gemcitabine overdose are difficult to predict as there have been few reports of overdose. It is possible an overdose may result in an increased risk of the usual gemcitabine side effects. This may include bone marrow suppression, paresthesias (tingling, burning, pricking, or numbness of skin), and severe rash.

Other Requirements

Keep all of your doctor and laboratory appointments.