Steroids for myeloma
Steroids (also known as corticosteroids) are hormones made naturally in the body. They can also be made artificially and used as drugs. These drugs modify the immune system’s responses, relieve swelling and inflammation, and actively kill myeloma cells.
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The typical steroids used for myeloma are dexamethasone and prednisolone. These are usually given with chemotherapy or other anti-myeloma drugs. Steroids are most often taken as tablets but can also be given intravenously. They are usually given in high doses, but for short periods only.
Common side effects include difficulty sleeping, mood changes, increased appetite, fluid retention, heartburn, infections and weight gain. To reduce the risk of sleeplessness at night and irritation to your stomach, take steroids in the morning with food or milk.
Some steroids can affect blood sugar levels. If used for a long period, steroids may cause diabetes. If you have diabetes, you need to monitor your blood sugars often. Always consult your doctor if you want to reduce the dose as stopping steroids suddenly can cause problems.
Several new drug therapies for myeloma are being developed. The cost of these drugs is not subsidised for myeloma on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so they are expensive. If your doctor thinks they are the most promising treatment for you, ask whether there are any clinical trials or compassionate access schemes that may be able to help with the costs.
Prof John Gibson, Haematologist, Institute of Haematology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Stephanie Anderson, Registrar, Institute of Haematology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Tanya Carney, Consumer; Jacqui Keogh, NSW State Manager/Senior Myeloma Nurse NSW, Myeloma Australia; Dr Silvia Ling, Haematologist, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Rachel McCann, Myeloma Support Nurse NSW, Myeloma Australia; John McMath, Consumer; Karen Robinson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW.
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