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Gemcitabine 244 and 81

Gemcitabine 244 and 81

This leaflet provides information on a course of chemotherapy called gemcitabine.  It will explain what this is and when and how it is given.  It will also tell you about common side effects that you may experience.  Contact telephone numbers and details of how to obtain further information on gemcitabine are given at the end of the leaflet.

This leaflet should be read alongside the ‘General information for patients receiving chemotherapy’ folder.  If you haven’t received this folder please ask your nurse for a copy.

What is gemcitabine chemotherapy?

This is a chemotherapy treatment which is given as an infusion (drip).

Why am I having gemcitabine chemotherapy? 

Your doctor has prescribed gemcitabine because it has been found to be effective in treating your type of cancer.

How often will I receive my chemotherapy?

For this treatment to be most effective, it is given at specific time intervals.  These are known as cycles.  Your doctor will discuss with you the exact number of cycles you will receive.  

Gemcitabine can be given in 2 ways: 

  1. Gemcitabine once a week for seven weeks, followed by one weeks rest.  Then gemcitabine once a week for three weeks followed by one weeks rest.  
  2. Gemcitabine once a week for three weeks followed by one weeks rest. This is known as a cycle. 

Your nurse or doctor will tell you which way your treatment will be given. 

How will my chemotherapy be given?

The chemotherapy will be given through a drip connected to a small needle which is placed in your hand or arm. Alternatively it may be suggested that a fine tube called a PICC line is inserted into one of the large veins in your upper arm.  This line can stay in place for the whole of your treatment.  Your doctor or nurse will explain this in more detail.  

We have a leaflet that tells you more about PICC lines.  Please ask if you would like a copy.

How long will my treatment take?

Your treatment will usually be on a different day to your clinic appointment.  The chemotherapy treatment takes about an hour.  Please allow an extra 30 minutes for your first treatment.

Can I bring relatives and friends with me? 

You are welcome to bring someone to stay with you during your treatment. Space is limited so there is not usually room for more than one person.  Treatment areas are not suitable for young children.

How often will I see the specialist team?

Your specialist team will let you know how often they will see you in clinic.  You will have regular blood tests and we will check how you are feeling and discuss any problems you may have.  This is so we can check how the chemotherapy is affecting you.  If your blood results are satisfactory, your chemotherapy will be prescribed.  

What are the possible side effects?

There are a number of possible side effects which can occur with this chemotherapy.  The doctors, nurses and pharmacy team can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.

Hair loss

You should not lose your hair with this chemotherapy.  However, you may experience some hair thinning.  We have a leaflet that tells you more about coping with hair loss.  Please ask for a copy. 


Nausea and vomiting are uncommon these days as we will give you anti-sickness medicines which are usually extremely effective.  If you are sick more than once in 24 hours despite taking regular anti-sickness medicine when you are at home after your treatment, contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.


You are at an increased risk of picking up infections because your white blood cells which help fight infections can be reduced by this treatment.  

If you develop an infection whilst your white blood cells are low, you are at risk of sepsis, this can be life threatening. 

Contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately if you develop any signs of infection, for example flu like symptoms or a temperature above 37.5°centigrade or if your temperature is below 35.5°.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.


Diarrhoea is not common with gemcitabine chemotherapy.  However, if you have four or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Tiredness and fatigue

Chemotherapy can make you feel more tired than usual.  It is important to listen to your body and rest if you need to, but carry out your normal activities if you feel able.  Some people find it beneficial to take gentle exercise as well as taking rest.

Sore mouth

Your mouth may become sore or you may notice small ulcers.  Please follow the advice on caring for your mouth in the general chemotherapy leaflet.  Your doctor may prescribe mouthwashes or medication to prevent or clear any infection.

Flu like symptoms

Approximately 20% of patients experience flu like symptoms in the first 48 hours after gemcitabine treatment.  This is usually mild and short lived.  Symptoms may include fever, chills, aching muscles, headaches and tiredness.  If your temperature is above 37.5oC please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Skin changes

Gemcitabine may cause an itchy rash in some patients.  Medication is available to treat this.  If this occurs please contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Blood clots

A diagnosis of cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having cancer treatment may increase this risk further.  It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in your leg, or breathlessness and chest pain.  

Blood clots can be very serious.  However, most clots can usually be successfully treated with drugs to thin the blood.  Your doctor or nurse can give you more information

Driving and Using Machinery

Gemcitabine can sometimes make you feel sleepy or drowsy especially if you have drunk alcohol.  Do not drive or use machinery for a few hours after you have received the gemcitabine. 

Alcohol content of gemcitabine  

Gemcitabine contains alcohol. If having alcohol is a problem for you, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. It is possible that your blood alcohol level may be above the legal limit after you have gemcitabine. Do not drive or operate machinery for a few hours after having this treatment, even if you feel okay.  

Other side effects

Some patients experience some discomfort along the vein when gemcitabine is being given as a drip.  Having a PICC line inserted will prevent this problem from occurring.  If you would like more information please speak to your nurse or doctor. 

Gemcitabine treatment may contain alcohol, if you have been advised to avoid alcohol, for any reason, please discuss this with your Velindre doctor or nurse.

You may also notice some swelling of your ankles.  This is usually mild and will stop when your treatment is completed. 

Women sometimes find that chemotherapy treatment affects their periods.  They could become heavier, lighter or even stop altogether.  

It is important you do not become pregnant or father a child whilst having chemotherapy treatment as chemotherapy could damage the unborn baby.  

This chemotherapy can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.  It is best to avoid strong sunlight, wear a hat and use a sun block.

Sometimes cancer drugs can have very serious side effects which rarely can be life threatening. It is important to inform Velindre cancer centre if you are concerned about any side-effects.

Manufacturer’s patient information leaflets

Velindre leaflets provide information about very common and commonly reported side-effects (we are unable to list all of the common side effects), for more information regarding these and the less common side-effects please refer to the manufacturers patient information leaflets, obtained from Velindre pharmacy and/or on the internet at Sometimes patients may find these leaflets difficult to read however. Please ask if you would like a copy from your doctor or from Velindre pharmacy

Contact telephone numbers

Velindre Cancer Centre 029 2061 5888

Ask for the treatment helpline if you are unwell at home and need immediate advice at any time of the day or night.  For example you should phone if you:

  • Are sick more than once in 24 hours
  • Have a temperature of 37.5°C or above or below 35.5°centigrade
  • Have diarrhoea
  • Have an itchy rash

Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223

Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines

Macmillan freephone Helpline 0808 808 0000


Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010

cancer helpline 


This information is also available in Welsh

This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.

Prepared February 2004    
Reviewed October 2019