Steroids for brain cancer

Steroids are made naturally in the body, but they can also be produced artificially and used as drugs. Brain tumours and their treatments can both lead to swelling in the brain. Steroids may help to reduce this swelling, and can be given before, during and after surgery and radiation therapy. The most commonly used steroid for people with brain tumours is dexamethasone.

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Side effects of steroids

Side effects depend on the dose and the length of treatment. If you are prescribed steroids for a short period, you may experience increased appetite, weight gain, trouble sleeping, restlessness, mood swings, anxiety and, in rare cases, more serious changes to thought and behaviour. In people with diabetes, steroids can quickly lead to high or unstable blood sugar levels. These shortterm side effects can be managed. Eating before taking steroids decreases the likelihood of the steroids irritating your stomach.

If taken for several months, steroids can cause puffy skin (fluid retention or oedema) in the feet, hands or face; high blood pressure; unstable blood sugar levels; diabetes; muscle weakness; and loss of bone density (osteoporosis). You will also be more likely to get infections. Most side effects are temporary and your doctor may adjust your dose to manage them.

An experienced counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help you manage mood swings or behavioural changes. If you or your family are worried about side effects, talk to your doctor or nurse.

This information was last reviewed in May 2016
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