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Gemcitabine

Gemcitabine

What Gemcitabine Is Used For:

  • Pancreas cancer
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Soft-tissue sarcoma
  • Metastatic breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

How Gemcitabine Is Given:

  • Gemcitabine is given by infusion through a vein (intravenously, by IV).
  • There is no pill form of Gemcitabine.
  • The amount of Gemcitabine you will receive depends on many factors, including your height and weight, your general health or other health problems, and the type of cancer you have.  Your doctor will determine your exact dosage and schedule.

Side Effects:

Important things to remember about the side effects of Gemcitabine:

  • Most people do not experience all of the side effects listed.
  • Side effects are often predictable in terms of their onset, duration and severity.
  • Side effects are almost always reversible and will go away after treatment is complete.
  • There are many options to help minimize or prevent side effects.
  • There is no relationship between the presence or severity of side effects and the effectiveness of the medication.

When to contact your doctor or health care provider:

Nausea that interferes with eating and is not relieved by medications prescribed by your doctor. Vomiting (more than 4-5 episodes within a 24-hour period) Extreme fatigue (inability to perform self-care activities) Diarrhea (more than 4-6 episodes in a 24-hour period) Unusual bleeding or bruising Black or tarry stools, or blood in your stools or urine Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.

Precautions

Before starting Gemcitabine treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking (including prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbal remedies, etc.).  Do not take aspirin or products containing aspirin unless your doctor specifically permits this. Do not receive any kind of vaccination without your doctor's approval while taking Gemcitabine.

Inform your health care professional if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior to starting this treatment. Pregnancy category D (Gemcitabine may be hazardous to the fetus.  Women who are pregnant or become pregnant must be advised of the potential hazard to the fetus). For both men and women: Do not conceive a child (get pregnant) while taking Gemcitabine. Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, are recommended. Discuss with your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.

How Gemcitabine Works

Cancerous tumors are characterized by cell division, which is no longer controlled as it is in normal tissue.   "Normal" cells stop dividing when they come into contact with like cells, a mechanism known as contact inhibition.  Cancerous cells lose this ability.  Cancer cells no longer have the normal checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division.  The process of cell division, whether normal or cancerous cells, is through the cell cycle.  The cell cycle goes from the resting phase, through active growing phases, and then to mitosis (division).

The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division.  Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division.  If the cells are unable to divide, they die.  The faster the cells are dividing, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink.  They also induce cell suicide (self-death or apoptosis).

Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle specific.  Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells when they are at rest are called cell-cycle non-specific.  The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the type of cells, rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is likely to be effective.  This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles.

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