Gemcitabine (Generic Name)

Other Names: Gemzar®

About This Drug

Gemcitabine is used to treat cancer. This drug is given intravenously (IV).

Possible Side Effects (Most Common)

  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Bone marrow depression usually occurs seven days after the drug is given and may increase your risk of infection, fatigue, and bleeding.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea that may last for several days
  • Fluid retention. You may experience swelling of your arms, legs, face, chest or abdomen
  • Raised, red rash on arms, legs, back, or chest
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue
  • Changes in your liver function.  Your doctor will check your liver function as needed.

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased appetite
  • Effects on the nerves called peripheral neuropathy. You may feel numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. It may be difficult for you to button your clothes, open jars, or walk normally. The effect on the nerves may get worse with additional doses of the drug. These effects get better in some people after the drug is stopped but it may not get better in some people.

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Sexual problems and reproduction concerns may occur. In men and women both, this drug may temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your therapy. In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations. In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are receiving this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period. Women may experience signs of menopause like vaginal dryness or itching.
    • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
    • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking.
    • Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred.
    • Breast feeding warning: It is not known if this drug passes into breast milk.  For this reason, women are advised to discuss with their doctor the risks and benefits of breast feeding during treatment with this drug because this drug may enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.
    • Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations. 

Treating Side Effects

  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medication that is available to help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle and joint aches.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
  • Be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of gemcitabine  with food. This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor's advice.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rash
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Diarrhea of 5 stools in one day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of your arms, legs, face, chest or abdomen (fluid retention)

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Numbness, tingling, decreased sensation or weakness in fingers, toes, arms, or legs
  • Difficulty in walking or changes in the way you walk clumsiness in buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine hand activities
  • Weight gain of 5 pounds in one week (fluid retention)
  • Persistent loss of appetite or rapid weight loss of five pounds in a week
  • Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities

Revised February 2011

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