What is Gemcitabine?

 Gemcitabine is an antimetabolite chemotherapy medication. It is used to treat breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer. It has many non-FDA approved, off-label indications including: bladder cancer, cervical cancer, Ewing sarcoma, head and neck cancer, hepatobiliary cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, malignant pleural mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin lymphomas, osteosarcoma, renal cell cancer, small cell lung cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, testicular cancer, thymic malignancies, adenocarcinomas and uterine sarcoma. Gemcitabine inhibits DNA synthesis by blocking several key enzymes including DNA polymerase and ribonucleotide reductase. Without DNA synthesis, cells cannot divide and tumor cell growth is arrested. 

How it is administered:

Gemcitabine is most commonly administered over 30 minutes as an intravenous infusion. Longer infusion times of gemcitabine are associated with increased toxicities of the medication. Thus, we most commonly see the standard infusion time of 30 minutes. Although gemcitabine is not a highly nauseating medication, in order to prevent the occurrence of nausea, pre-medications are routinely given prior to the start of each infusion.

What to expect:

Gemcitabine can cause anemia and reduce the body’s ability to fight infections. Additional side effects associated with gemcitabine include, but are not limited to: edema, tiredness, hair loss, rash, protein in the urine, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, increased liver enzymes, shortness of breath, fever, decreased kidney function and reactions at the site of administration. Laboratory tests will be performed routinely throughout the course of therapy to help manage and monitor the development of these side effects.