This leaflet provides information on a course of chemotherapy called gemcitabine and abraxane. 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 and abraxane are given at the end of the leaflet.
This leaflet should be read alongside the ‘General information for patients receiving chemotherapy’ leaflet. If you haven’t received this leaflet please ask your nurse for a copy.
What is gemcitabine and abraxane chemotherapy?
This is a chemotherapy treatment which is given as an infusion (drip).
Why am I having gemcitabine and abraxane chemotherapy?
Your doctor has prescribed gemcitabine and abraxane 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 number of cycles you will be having.
Gemcitabine and abraxane is given once a week for three weeks followed by one weeks rest. You will see the doctor every 4 weeks.
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. If there are any problems placing the needle or any pain during treatment, 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?
You should allow approximately 2 hours for each chemotherapy appointment. You will have a blood test taken before each treatment. This blood test will usually be arranged for the day before your chemotherapy. We will give you your blood forms and written information to explain this.
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.
What are the possible side effects?
There are a number of possible side effects which can occur with this chemotherapy. The doctors, nurses and pharmacists can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.
Unfortunately you will lose your hair with this chemotherapy. This is only temporary. Your hair will grow back when your treatment has finished. A method known as ‘scalp cooling’ or ‘cold capping’ can be used to prevent hair loss. We can arrange a wig if you would like one. If you want to know more about scalp cooling or wigs please speak to your nurse.
We have a leaflet that tells you more about coping with hair loss. Please ask your nurse 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 on page 8.
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 below 35.5°centigrade. The telephone number is on page 8.
Diarrhoea is not common with gemcitabine and abraxane 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 on page 8.
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.
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.
Effects on the nerves of your hands and feet
Abraxane can affect the nerves of your hands and feet. This may lead to a loss of sensation, tingling or pins and needles. If this occurs please tell your doctor or nurse at your next clinic visit as we may need to change your treatment.
These symptoms may increase as you have more cycles of chemotherapy. It is important to be extra careful when exposing your hands and feet to hot or cold temperatures. These symptoms usually go away within a few months of finishing your treatment.
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 on page 8.
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 on page 8.
Painful or aching joints
Some patients have noticed that they have pains or aches in their joints. This is most likely to occur 2-3 days after each treatment. Let your doctor or nurse know if this happens as we can give you pain killers to help.
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. Usually we can help with this using a heat pad. Occasionally, we may offer a PICC line to be inserted to prevent this problem from occurring. If you would like more information please speak to your nurse or doctor.
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 common side-effects: for more information regarding the less common side-effects please refer to the manufacturers patient information leaflets, obtained from Velindre pharmacy and/or on the internet at www.medicines.org.uk. 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 attention at any time of the day or night. For example you should phone if you:
Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223
Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines
Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010
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 2015
Reviewed August 2015