Listen to Jennifer talk about the use of steroids during the treatment of her brain tumour.
Steroids occur naturally within your body, but they can also be created in a laboratory for medical purposes. The steroids used during brain tumour treatment are NOT anabolic steroids, which are used by some athletes to build muscle.
Steroids can also be made synthetically in the lab and used as drugs to help treat symptoms of various illnesses, including brain tumours. There are different types of these steroids, which all have different effects on the body.
Swelling around a brain tumour can be caused by surgery or radiotherapy that may be part of your treatment. This can put pressure on surrounding tissues and cause symptoms such as headaches, sickness and seizures (fits). You may be given steroids to reduce the swelling, and so relieve those symptoms.
You may be given a low dosage of steroids if you are having chemotherapy or radiotherapy and experiencing nausea. They are also used to protect the brain at the time of surgery, and to treat nausea, which some people experience when having radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Steroids, therefore, help with symptom management rather than treating the tumour itself.
The steroid most commonly used with brain tumours is dexamethasone, as this is useful in treating swelling in the brain. As steroids are fast-acting drugs, the effects caused by the tumour could reduce quite quickly.
After taking steroids for a few days, your body will start to produce less of its own natural steroids. To allow for this, when taking you off steroids, your specialist is likely to reduce your dosage gradually to allow your body to start producing steroids naturally again. Stopping steroids suddenly can make you unwell, so please follow the advice of your specialist.
Steroids can be taken:
Steroids are usually given in short courses of a few days or a few weeks.
If you have to take them for longer than a week, you are likely to be given a steroid card. It has important information about the type of steroid and the dosage that may be needed in an emergency or if you need to have medical treatment.
Your doctor may advise you to carry it for up to a year after completion of your steroid treatment.
You should, of course, make every effort to remember to take your steroids when you are required to. It might help 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 though, don't try to compensate by taking a double dose next time. Speak to your health team to see what they advise.
As with most medications, steroids affect people in different ways and effects vary according to the exact type and dosage prescribed. You should talk to your health team about any side effects you experience.
Some common side-effects include:
With longer term use of steroids (more than a few months), other side-effects include:
Please remember that you should never just stop taking steroids (nor reduce the amount you are taking) without your specialist advising you to do so.
Page last reviewed: 05/2014
Next review due: 05/2017
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:
0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)
01252 749 999
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.