Close navigation

What are steroids and how are they used to treat brain tumours?

Steroids are hormones that are produced naturally in our bodies in small amounts. They help to control various functions, for example they reduce inflammation or swelling when our body is injured.

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

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

Steroids and brain tumours

Swelling around a brain tumour can be caused as a result of neurosurgery or radiotherapy that may be part of your treatment. This can put pressure the surrounding areas of the brain and cause headaches, sickness or nausea and seizures. 

You may be given steroids to help reduce the swelling and relieve those symptoms.

If you are experiencing nausea as a result of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you may be given a low dosage of steroids to minimise the impact. They are also used to protect the brain at the time of surgery.

While steroids don't treat the tumour itself, they do help manage the symptoms it causes. And, because steroids are fast-acting drugs, the effect your quality of life could improve quite quickly.

How are steroids taken?

Steroids can be taken:

  • as tablets or a liquid medicine (the colour and dosage will depend on which steroid you have been prescribed)
  • by injection into a vein or muscle (this option is only normally prescribed if you are in hospital or unable to take the steroids orally)

How long will I need to take steroids for?

Steroids are usually given in short courses of a few days or a few weeks, but you should keep taking them for as long as your specialist tells you to.

What if I forget to take my steroids?

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

Get your free brain tumour information pack

Our FREE Brain Tumour Information Pack has been designed to help you through this difficult time, to guide you through the healthcare system, answer your questions, and reassure you that you're not alone so that you feel confident when discussing treatment and care options with your medical team.

Privacy notice

We will use the details you provided to send your information pack and any other resources you request and any relevant information in the future. Your details are held on our secure database and we promise never to share them with any other organisation for their marketing purposes. You can find out more in our privacy policy.