Steroids for brain cancer

Steroids are made naturally in the body, but they can also be produced artificially and used as drugs.

Steroids may help to reduce swelling in the brain, and can be given before, during and after surgery and radiation therapy.

Dexamethasone is the most commonly prescribed steroid. It is important to eat some food before taking steroids. This decreases the likelihood of the steroids irritating your stomach.

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Side effects of steroids

The side effects you experience depend on the dose and the length of treatment.

Short term side effects – Steroids taken for a short period may cause increased appetite, weight gain, insomnia, restlessness, mood swings, anxiety and very occasionally more serious disturbances of thought and behaviour.

– Kate

Longer term side effects – Steroids taken for several months can cause puffy skin (fluid retention or oedema) in the feet, hands or face; high blood pressure; unstable blood sugar levels; diabetes; or muscle weakness and osteoporosis. You will also be more likely to get infections.

Most side effects are temporary and will fade if your medical team reduces your dose.

Short-term side effects can be managed. An experienced counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help you manage mood swings or behavioural changes. A physiotherapist can assist with muscle weakness.

If you or your family members are worried about side effects, talk to your doctor, nurse or a counsellor.

This information was last reviewed in May 2016
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