Gemcitabine is a chemotherapy drug that is often used in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It has also shown effectiveness in the treatment of bladder cancer and breast cancer; recently the drug has been administered as a treatment for pleural mesothelioma. Gemcitabine is a type of drug known as an antimetabolite, and is given as an intravenous injection.

How it Works

Like many other chemotherapy drugs, gemcitabine contains complex chemical compounds that interfere with the cellular division. Cancer cells grow and divide much faster than most normal cells in the body, and chemotherapy drugs target these cells, which become unable to grow and divide at their normal rate. Instead the cellular DNA is altered or the chemical messengers do not transfer information properly, often leading to the death of the cell.

Gemcitabine will affect healthy cells as well; chemotherapy involves proper dosage to insure that as few healthy cells as possible are affected. Cells that grow and divide at a fairly slow rate are less likely to be targeted by the administering of gemcitabine, but as with most chemotherapy drugs, hair cells and immune system cells are more likely to show signs of slower growth and division. This is why so many cancer patients suffer hair loss when on a chemotherapy treatment.

Administering the Drug

Gemcitabine is usually administered on an out-patient basis, as the time required for an individual treatment is minimal. There are several noted side effects of the drug including vomiting, fever, skin rash and low red and white cell counts in the blood. Gemcitabine is often administered in combination with other chemotherapy drugs if the physician determines it necessary to fully combat certain malignancies.

Treating Mesothelioma

Asbestos has been used for over a century in production plants, shipyards, metal works and other industrial settings where workers are subject to high heat exposure. It is an excellent insulator and is also very inexpensive to collect and process. Asbestos fibers are found in ceiling tiles, wire coatings, wall panels and even protective clothing. Although the dangers of asbestos exposure have been known for some time, many former employees of companies that have used asbestos in their facilities are only now beginning to show symptoms of mesothelioma. This type of cancer is caused when asbestos fibers find their way into the pleural lining of the lungs, where they lie dormant for years before carcinogenic activity begins to manifest.

Gemcitabine has been shown to slow the growth and reproduction of mesothelioma cancer cells in the lungs, but it does not cure this disease. Patients may be advised by their doctor to undergo chemotherapy using gemcitabine as a means to slow the progression of mesothelioma, often in combination with other drugs.