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Steroids for brain tumours

Following a brain tumour diagnosis, it’s likely that you’ll be given steroids at some point during your treatment.

The steroids used during brain tumour treatment are corticosteroids. These are NOT anabolic steroids, which are used by some athletes to build muscle.

What are steroids?

Steroids are hormones that are produced naturally in our bodies in small amounts. They help to control swelling when our body is injured.

Sometimes our bodies don't produce enough steroids to reduce the swelling. Fortunately, steroids created in a laboratory for medical purposes can be given in these cases.

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What treatment do people with a similar diagnosis have first?

If you’ve just been diagnosed and are about to have treatment, you may want to see what other people’s first treatment was. Use the First Treatment insight in BRIAN, which you can personalise to make it relevant to you.

What treatment do people with a similar diagnosis have first?

BRIAN is our trusted online app where you can track your experience, compare it with others who’ve been there and get the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Find out more

Before steroids

Brain cells in and around a tumour, or the area treated by surgery or radiotherapy, can swell and put pressure on surrounding tissues. This can cause symptoms, such as headaches and seizures. 

Steroids help with symptom management rather than treating the tumour itself. So, you may be given steroids after diagnosis, or before or after these treatments to reduce the swelling and relieve those symptoms.

You may also be given a low dosage of steroids if you’re having chemotherapy or radiotherapy and feeling sick.

Asking questions

Your healthcare team will also talk through what will happen and discuss any potential side-effects with you before any treatment is given.

This is your chance to ask any questions. Remember, no question is a silly question.

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While taking steroids

The steroid most commonly used with brain tumours is dexamethasone. Steroids are fast-acting drugs, so the effects caused by the tumour can reduce quite quickly.They may need to be taken at set times of day.

Steroids can be taken:

      Tablets or liquid medicine

      Tablets are the most common way to take steroids. If you have difficulty swallowing tablets, try practicing with tic tacs®. 

      The colour and dosage of the tablet/medicine will depend on which steroid you’ve been prescribed.

      Injection into a vein or muscle

      Steroids are only likely to be given by injection when you’re in hospital or if you’re unable to take tablets by mouth.

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      After taking steroids

      As with many medications, steroids affect different people in different ways. Their effect will also depend on the exact type and dosage of steroid prescribed for you. Talk to your healthcare team about any side-effects you experience.

      Steroid side-effects

      At the end of your treatment with steroids, your specialist is likely to reduce your dosage gradually.

      This is because, after taking steroids for a few days, your body will be producing less of its own natural steroids. Your body needs some steroids, and reducing the dosage of your medical steroids allows your body to start producing its own again.

      You should never stop taking your steroids suddenly or reduce your dosage unless your specialist advises you to. It can make you very unwell.

      If steroids don't work

      Although treatment plans are carefully developed by healthcare professionals to be as effective as possible while having the fewest risks or side-effects, sometimes steroids might not work. 

      This can be worrying, but just because one treatment hasn’t worked, it doesn’t mean others won’t.

      Find out more

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      Frequently asked questions

      How long will I need to take steroids for?

      Steroids are usually given in short courses of a few days or a few weeks. Keep taking your steroids for as long as your specialist tells you to.

      If you have to take steroids for longer than a week, you’re likely to be given a steroid card.

      It has important information about your type and dosage of steroid, which may be needed in an emergency.

      Carry it with you at all times.

      Your doctor may advise carrying it for up to a year after your steroid treatment has ended.

      What if I forget to take my steroids?

      You should make every effort to remember to take your steroids when you’re required to. Leave yourself a note or set an alarm to remind you. Getting into a routine of when you take your steroids is also helpful.

      If you do miss a dose, don't try to compensate by taking a double dose next time. Speak to your healthcare team to see what they advise.

      Get support

      If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

      If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

      Support and Information Services

      0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

      support@thebraintumourcharity.org

      Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

      You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.