Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

Warning: Gemcitabine can cause very rare but serious side effects such as severe abdominal pain, easy bleeding or bruising, difficulty breathing and fainting. Contact a doctor immediately if you experience chest pain, weakness on one side of the body, confusion and slurred speech. More common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and flu like symptoms.

Indications: Gemcitabine is used to treat certain types of cancer such as breast, lung, ovarian and pancreatic. It is a chemotherapy drug that may be taken alone or with other treatments or medications used to treat cancer.

Gemcitabine can also be used to treat the following malignancies:

  • soft-tissue sarcoma
  • invasive bladder cancer

Dosage: This drug is given intravenously for 30 minutes once a week or as decided by an oncologist. The dosage is determined by the health care professional based on your specific condition and your response to therapy.  Wash your skin immediately with soap and water if you come into contact with this medication.

Gemcitabine should be given in hospital or a health care center equipped for its preparation. Gemcitabine should be given only by physicians or health professionals who have experience in cancer chemotherapy.

Overdose: as with any drug, Gemcitabine overdose can be dangerous if it is high and long term. An overdose of Gemcitabine can damage your bone marrow, and lead to serious infections. During the treatment and even months after, avoid anything that can weaken your immune system and the risk of infection. If you think you have taken an overdose, contact your doctor or the poison control center nearest you as soon as possible to reduce or prevent complications.

Contraindications: It is important to inform your doctor of any allergies you may have to this or other drugs.  There may be inactive ingredients in this medication that you are allergic to. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist for more information. Make sure to tell your doctor your full medical history especially if you have had bone marrow problems such as anemia or thrombocytopenia, heart problems, and radiation therapy.  Do not get immunized or vaccinated while taking this medication unless you consult with a doctor first. Avoid contact with people who have recently been vaccinated with the oral polio vaccine and wash your hands well to prevent spreading infections.  Handle sharp objects carefully and avoid activities such as contact sports. Use safety razors and soft bristle toothbrushes to reduce the risk of bleeding. Do not use this medication if you are pregnant.  Ask your doctor for birth control options to prevent pregnancy while taking Gemcitabine.  It’s not known whether this medication is secreted into breast milk so talk to your doctor if you are breastfeeding or stop breastfeeding altogether.

Interactions:Certain drugs you are taking may affect how this medication works and may increase your risk of serious side effects.  Talk to your doctor about what medications interact with Gemcitabine. Also keep a list with you of the prescription medicines and herbal medicines you may be taking so you can share it with a doctor and he can determine if they are harmful when taken together with this medication.  Make sure you continue to take this medication and do not stop without a doctor’s approval.

Side effects: while attacking cancer cells, Gemcitabine also affects normal (healthy) cells, which lead, in certain patients, to the following side effects:

  • hair loss
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • decreased appetite
  • weight loss
  • mouth blistering
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • Drying or darkening of the skin or nails

If the side effects above persist for weeks, contact your oncologist. In addition, contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • fever
  • chills
  • persistent cough
  • bloody diarrhea
  • muscle and/or bone
  • difficulty swallowing
  • severe red skin rash
  • severe stomach pain
  • shortness of breath
  • puffy face
  • painful urination or red urine
  • unusual bruising or bleeding
  • swelling of the feet or legs
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Swelling of the feet or ankles
  • sudden low or high blood pressure

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