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Gemcitabine and cisplatin (GC)

GC is the name of a chemotherapy combination that includes:

  • gemcitabine
  • cisplatin

It is a treatment for a number of different types of cancer.

How GC works

These chemotherapy drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.

How you have GC

You have these drugs into your bloodstream (intravenously).

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

If you don't have a central line

You might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

When you have GC

You usually have GC chemotherapy as cycles of treatment. Each cycle takes 3 weeks.

You usually have between 4 to 6 cycles of treatment taking from 3 to 6 months. 

Day 1
  • You have gemcitabine as a drip into your bloodstream over 30 minutes.
  • You have cisplatin as a drip into your bloodstream over 1 to 4 hours.
Day 2 to 7
  • You have no treatment.
Day 8
  • You have gemcitabine as a drip into your bloodstream over 30 minutes.
Day 8 - bladder and bile duct cancer only
  • You have cisplatin as a drip into your bloodstream over 30 minutes.
Day 9 to 21
  • You have no treatment.

You then start a new cycle of treatment.

Tests

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.

Side effects

We haven't listed all the side effects. It's very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Increased risk of infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

Bruising, bleeding gums or nose bleeds

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. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).

Breathlessness and looking pale

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Changes to your hearing

You might have some hearing loss, especially with high pitched sounds. You might also have some ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any changes.

Low levels of sodium in your blood

Sodium is a salt, and having these drugs can lower its levels in your blood. The symptoms of low sodium include headache, feeling and being sick, confusion, and restlessness. The levels usually go back to normal when you finish treatment. You have regular blood tests to check this.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

Liver changes

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

Skin problems

Skin problems include a skin rash, dry skin and itching. This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes. Your nurse will tell you what products you can use on your skin to help.

Hair thinning and hair loss

You may have some hair loss or hair thinning. This can be upsetting. Your hair might grow back once treatment has finished.

Blood and protein in your urine

Small amounts of blood and protein in your urine may be found when your nurse tests your urine. This usually goes away on its own. If there are large amounts of protein you may have tests to check how well your kidneys are working.

Flu-like symptoms

You may have headaches, muscle aches (myalgia), a high temperature and shivering. You should contact your advice line urgently if you have these symptoms.

Taste changes

Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually goes back to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.

Swelling of the face, hand, feet (oedema)

You may have swelling of your face, hands and feet due to a build up of fluid (oedema). 

High temperature (fever)

If you get a high temperature, let your health care team know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.

Kidney changes

You might have some changes in the way your kidneys work. You'll have regular blood tests to check how well they are working.

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (1 to 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • blood clots that are life threatening; signs are pain, swelling and redness where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot on the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • heart problems such as slow, fast or irregular heartbeat – rarely this can cause a heart attack
  • a loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • a sore mouth and ulcers
  • headaches
  • drowsiness or problems with sleeping (insomnia)
  • inflammation of the lining of the nose (rhinitis), symptoms might include a runny nose, cough and sneezing
  • coughing
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • high levels of bilirubin in your blood – you have regular blood tests to check this
  • sweating
  • back or muscle pain
  • tiredness and weakness
  • a serious reaction to an infection (sepsis) signs can include feeling very unwell, not passing urine, being sick, a very high or very low temperature or shivering - contact your advice line straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • shivering and shaking (chills)
  • numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • an allergic reaction that can cause a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face and dizziness - some allergic reactions can be life-threatening alert your nurse or doctor if notice any of these symptoms
  • skin rash on areas previously exposed to radiotherapy
  • changes in the lungs such as scarring of the air sacs of the lung (interstitial pneumonitis) and wheeze
  • a condition that causes blood clots to form in the small blood vessels in the kidneys (haemolytic uraemic syndrome), this leads to low red blood cells (anaemia), kidney failure and low levels of platelets
  • a second cancer called acute leukaemia
  • low levels of magnesium in your blood. You have regular tests to check this
  • changes in the brain that are usually reversible, causing a sudden onset of symptoms including headaches, dizziness, confusion, fits (seizures) and changes to vision (reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome)
  • seizures (fits)
  • leaking of fluid and proteins out of the blood vessels into the tissues (capillary leak syndrome)

Other side effects

For more information about the side effects of individual drugs:

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do I need to know?

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Alcohol

Some brands of gemcitabine contain alcohol (equal to half a glass of wine or half a pint of beer) and may make you drowsy or dizzy, especially if you have drunk alcohol. Don't operate machinery or drive if you feel drowsy.

Sodium

Cisplatin contains sodium (salt). You might need to keep this in mind if you are on a controlled sodium diet. Tell your doctor if you are on a low salt diet. 

Loss of fertility

This treatment might stop you being able to father a child. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future. You may be able to store sperm before starting treatment.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drugs may come through in your breast milk.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and the shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine (as an injection)

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.