Giving hope to those affected
by secondary breast cancer

Research. Support. Education.

Types of Chemotherapy for Secondary Breast Cancer: Gemcitabine

7th November 2021 by Claire O'Donnell Education

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We are looking at different types of chemotherapy - how you take it and possible side-effects - and then hearing from a patient about their experience. This week it’s Gemcitabine.


What is Gemcitabine?

Gemcitabine is a type of chemotherapy drug which destroys quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.


How do you take it?

You have Gemcitabine into your bloodstream which takes about 30 minutes.

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm or hand. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

You might have gemcitabine once a week for 2 or 3 weeks. And then have a week or 2 with no treatment to allow the body to recover.  The exact number of cycles and how long the cycle is depends on your cancer type. 

You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.


What are the side effects?

Side effects can include some of the following:

  • Increased risk of getting an infection - due to a drop in your white blood cells.  Symptoms can include change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. 
  • Breathlessness and looking pale - due to a drop in red white cells. 
  • Bruising, bleeding gums or nosebleeds - This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves.
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Liver changes
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Swelling in the face, hands and feet
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood and protein in your urine 
  • Skin rash
  • Hair loss

Please always consult your medical team if you experience any of these side effects.