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How It Works

Gemcitabine is an intravenous (IV) medicine that is usually given in a dose based on body surface area. The type and extent of a cancer determines the exact dose and schedule of administering this drug.

It's usually given through a needle in a vein. Each dose takes about 30 minutes. Doses may be repeated weekly, depending on treatment needs.

Why It Is Used

Gemcitabine interferes with how cells divide, which stops the growth of the cancer cells. It is used to treat pancreatic and lung cancer. It may also be used to treat bladder, breast, ovarian, or cervical cancer or lymphoma.

How Well It Works

Gemcitabine is effective against many forms of cancer. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this medicine slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Side Effects

Possible serious side effects of gemcitabine include:

  • Allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reaction can include trouble breathing; swelling or closing of the throat; swollen face, tongue, or lips; or hives.
  • Low blood counts, which may increase the risk of infection and bleeding.
  • Feeling extremely tired, bruising or bleeding easily, or signs of infection such as a fever or chills. These symptoms may mean that the medicine caused the numbers of your white or red blood cells or platelets to drop.
  • Severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Severe diarrhea.
  • Blood in the urine or rarely needing to urinate.

Less serious side effects are more common and may include:

  • Fever and flu-like symptoms.
  • Mouth sores (stomatitis).
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Rash.
  • Hair loss. This is reversible, and hair will grow back when treatment ends.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Gemcitabine should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.

Gemcitabine can cause birth defects. Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or to father a child while you are taking it.

Do not breast-feed while you are using gemcitabine.

Do not use this medicine if you have:

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)Click here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


Other Works Consulted

  • Abramowicz M (2003). Treatment guidelines: Drugs of choice for cancer. Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 1(7): 41–52.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJoseph O'Donnell, MD - Hematology, Oncology
Last RevisedMarch 5, 2012

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