Gallium nitrate is a drug that is used to treat hyper-calcemia , or too much calcium in the blood. This condition may occur when individuals develop various types of cancer. Gallium nitrate is also known by the common brand name Ganite.
The purpose of gallium nitrate is to reduce the level of calcium in a patient's blood. It is a liquid medication that is injected into a person's vein.
Due to the fact that hypercalcemia is a serious condition that can be fatal, it is very important that it is effectively treated. Hypercalcemia is a common complication of cancer, affecting approximately 10-20% of all cancer patients. This condition can affect many systems of the body and has various signs and symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms may be thought to be associated with the cancer, and therefore the hypercalcemia itself may go undiagnosed.
Symptoms of hypercalcemia include frequent urination, thirst, dizziness, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and disruptions in cardiac rhythm. If severe, this complication can lead to seizure, cardiac arrest, coma, or death.
Hypercalcemia should first be treated with fluids. Doctors should make sure that their patients are properly hydrated, meaning that they have enough fluid in their body. However, fluid treatment alone is usually not effective to treat this condition. Therefore, some physicians may recommend that their patients take gallium nitrate to establish a normal balance of calcium in the blood.
The recommended dosage of gallium nitrate differs depending on the patient, and should be determined by a physician. For adults and teenagers, the dosage of this medication is based on body weight/size, and must be calculated by a doctor. The medication is injected into a patient's vein at a slow pace for 24 hours over a period of five days. If a patient's calcium level is still too high, this process can be repeated in two to four weeks. For younger children, up to the age of 12, there are no specific studies to determine the effects of gallium nitrate. Therefore, use and dosage of this medication must be determined by the young cancer patient's personal physician.
While undergoing treatment with gallium nitrate, patients' doctors should check calcium levels at regular intervals. Even if a patient's condition has improved, he or she may still need to be followed closely to make sure that they do not develop hypercalcemia again.
Before taking gallium nitrate, there are specific precautions that should be taken to avoid potential complications. Patients should let their physician know if they are allergic to any foods, preservatives or dyes. In addition, patients with certain medical problems, specifically kidney disease, should make sure that their prescribing physician is aware of this, as use of gallium nitrate can exacerbate this condition. Adequate hydration may minimize toxic effects on the kidney.
In addition, use of gallium nitrate has not been studied in pregnant animals or humans. It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as it may cause negative side effects.
With regard to children, as stated, there are no studies of gallium nitrate in younger populations. There are also no studies of this medication in the elderly. However, it is not thought that the use of gallium nitrate would cause very different side effects in older people versus younger adults.
Individuals who are considering taking gallium nitrate should discuss its use in detail with their physician. This includes talking about the potential benefits versus any potential side effects. Some individuals may experience all, some, or none of these side effects. Some of these side effects may lessen as a person's body gets used to the medication. However, it is important to be aware of these potential side effects because some of them may require medical interventions.
More common side effects:
- blood in the urine
- pain in the bones
- change in urination frequency
- feeling thirsty
- loss of appetite (anorexia )
- weakness of muscles
- feeling nauseous
- metallic taste in the mouth
- nausea and vomiting
- decrease of phosphate levels in the blood
Less common side effects:
- cramps in the abdomen
- a feeling of confusion
- muscle spasms
Rare side effects:
• excessive fatigue or weakness
Patients should tell their physician if they are taking any other medications on a regular basis, especially the ones listed below, as they could cause a negative interaction if taken with gallium nitrate.
- certain medications taken for infections
- medications for pain that contain acetaminophen or aspirin
- some medications for treatment of arthritis
- amphotericin B
- "nephrotoxic agents"
Tiffani A. DeMarco, MS
—One cell that grows out of control in the body and subsequently invades nearby cells and tissue.
—The commonly used brand name for gallium nitrate.
—Excessive or increased calcium in the blood. Often a complication of cancer.