Gemcitabine (GEMZAR®), a member of the family of drugs known as anti-metabolites, works to prevent cells from making DNA and RNA by interfering with the synthesis of nucleic acids. This stops the growth of cancer cells, causing the cells to die and, therefore, preventing reproduction of the cells. Gemcitabine is sometimes used in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma and is commonly used to treat those who have pancreatic, bladder, breast, and some forms of lung cancer. It is often used in tandem with other chemotherapy drugs.

Treatment with Gemcitabine

Gemcitabine is administered as an injection through the vein. A dose of gemcitabine usually takes about 30 minutes to complete. The drug is generally given once weekly. The length of treatment depends of the type of cancer being treated, the stage of the cancer, the size and weight of the patient, and the overall general health of the patient.

Side Effects of Gemcitabine

Like all chemotherapy drugs, gemcitabine can cause a variety of side effects. Some can be potentially serious if not monitored. Some are merely irritating or inconvenient and will disappear when mesothelioma treatment has been completed. Side effects include:

  • Change in kidney function – expect your doctor to monitor your kidneys closely.
  • Change in liver function – tests will be administered to determine the health of your liver.
  • Decreased white cell count, making the patient prone to infection
  • Decreased platelet count, causing potential bleeding problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms (usually with the first treatment)
  • Hair thinning
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash
  • Swelling of extremities or face
  • Itching

If you are undergoing treatment with gemcitabine, it is important to cooperate with your doctor in scheduling periodic liver and kidney function tests and be sure to report all side effects to your medical team to determine their seriousness.

Manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company.

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