Gemcitabine is a chemotherapy drug that is administered to combat certain types of lung, pancreatic, breast, and ovarian cancers. It is given as an intravenous solution, usually in single weekly doses for up to seven weeks at a time. Patients who take gemcitabine alone or in combination with other chemotherapy medications generally see some improvement in symptoms as their tumors gradually shrink and cancer stops spreading to other parts of the body. The immune system is impacted during treatment, however, so attending regular checkups and taking precaution against infections are essential.
Like many other chemotherapy drugs, gemcitabine is classified as an antimetabolite. When the drug is injected into the bloodstream, it travels to a tumor and penetrates cell membranes. Inside a cell, the chemical blocks an essential enzyme that is involved with DNA synthesis. Inhibition of the enzyme prevents a cell from splitting and replicating, and the cell itself quickly dies as its DNA breaks down. Many different cancers are vulnerable to antimetabolites, including non-small cell lung carcinomas, germ cell ovarian tumors, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
Patients receive gemcitabine in very specific intravenous doses. Dosage amounts are different for each patient, and doctors carefully calculate appropriate dosages based on a person's age, weight, cancerous condition, and overall health. In a clinical setting, a doctor or trained nurse administers a slow-release dose into a vein in the arm over the course of about 30 minutes. Most patients are scheduled to receive a dose each week for seven weeks, followed by a week or two of rest before the next round. Health is monitored carefully throughout treatment to make sure the drug is working and to adjust dosage amounts if necessary.
Gemcitabine is a highly effective agent against cancer cells, but it can also impact healthy blood cells and body tissue. People who receive chemotherapy for long periods of time often experience low white blood cell counts, leaving their bodies more susceptible to infection or illness. In addition, hair loss, oral lesions, and gastrointestinal problems may arise. Other side effects may include coughing, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Finally, some people suffer vision or hearing problems, tremors, seizures, and allergic reactions.
Patients who maintain their treatment schedules and attend checkups are usually able to overcome negative side effects. Doctors may prescribe specialized antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications during treatment to combat adverse symptoms. While gemcitabine may not be able to cure a person's cancer, a high percentage of tumors do go into remission with long-term treatment.