Steroids for brain cancer
Steroids (also known as corticosteroids) 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.
They can be given before, during and after surgery and radiation therapy. The most commonly used steroid for people with brain tumours is dexamethasone. It is usually given as a tablet.
Side effects of steroids
The side effects of steroids depend on the dose and length of treatment:
Short-term use – 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 thinking and behaviour. In people who have diabetes, steroids can quickly lead to high or unstable blood sugar levels. These short-term side effects can be managed. Eating before taking steroids can reduce the chance of the steroids irritating your stomach.
Longer-term use – If steroids are taken for several months, they can cause puffy skin (fluid retention or oedema) in the feet, hands or face; high blood pressure; weight gain; unstable blood sugar levels; diabetes; muscle weakness; and loss of bone density (osteoporosis). You will also be more likely to get infections. Your doctor may change your dose to manage any side effects you have. Most side effects will go away when treatment is over.
An experienced counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help you manage any mood swings or behavioural changes. If you or your family are worried about side effects, talk to your doctor or nurse or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Video: Steroids for brain cancer
Watch this short video to learn how steroids can be used to treat brain cancer.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Lindy Jeffree, Neurosurgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Emma Daly, Neuro-oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cabrini Health, VIC; A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Victorian Gamma Knife Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Department of Neurosurgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Beth Doggett, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Eng-Siew Koh, Radiation Oncologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Andy Stokes, Consumer.
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