How Effective Is Gemcitabine for Lung Cancer?

Lee Johnson

Gemcitabine for lung cancer is an effective treatment when combined with cisplatin, but otherwise, it has no marked effect. Positive results for this combination qualify it only to be one of several options for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, as opposed to a recommended treatment. Studies have looked into the effect of gemcitabine for lung cancer when combined with cisplatin, and they have found positive results. Despite this, the drug taken on its own is not effective as a treatment, and switching cisplatin for another drug, such as carboplatin, also is ineffective.

Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.
Smoking is closely associated with lung cancer.

Cancer is caused by cell division outside of the limitations normally imposed by normal cells. Drugs such as gemcitabine are classed as antimetabolites, which masquerade as ordinary substances that are part of cells and prevent them from dividing when they are brought into the cell. Cancer is caused by unneeded cell division, which forms into a tumor. When gemcitabine for lung cancer is taken, it interferes with pyrimidine to prevent the cell from dividing and increasing the size of the tumor.

A human respiratory system.
A human respiratory system.

Research done into the effects of gemcitabine for lung cancer indicates that it can be recommended in non-small cell lung cancer, but only when its use is combined with the use of cisplatin. Non-small cell lung cancer, which is not as quick-spreading as small cell lung cancer, is the most common variety of lung cancer. The three types of non-small cell lung cancer are adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and large cell carcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are found on the outside of the lung, squamous cell carcinomas occur in the center of the lung, and large cell carcinomas can occur anywhere on the lung. Large cell carcinomas spread the fastest, and the tumors grow much more quickly.

Studies have shown that using gemcitabine for lung cancer with no other treatment is not effective. When combined with cisplatin, the drug has been shown to have positive effects on survival rates of patients. Other combinations, however, such as gemcitabine and carboplatin or taxane, have been shown to be ineffective as a primary treatment.

Scientists have speculated that certain molecules could be tested to indicate whether gemcitabine will be an effective treatment. If these predictors can be identified, doctors will have a much easier job when determining the recommended course of treatment for patients who have lung cancer. Gemcitabine for lung cancer in combination with cisplatin is only one of several options, but genome-based approaches might make it easier to customize the treatment and gain a better outcome.

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