The word steroid might make you think of "roid rage" or side
effects in athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders who use them. But if your doctor
prescribed a steroid as part of your cancer treatment, don't worry. It's not "that"
kind of steroid. It's
an important cancer medicine.
Steroids are chemicals made normally by the body. Other steroids are manmade medicines.
Both have many different jobs and help organs work properly. The most common steroids
How Do Steroids Work?
Steroids can reduce
(irritation and swelling) in the body. Sometimes they lower the body's
ability to fight infection.
Steroids can help with cancer treatment in a variety of ways. They can:
help headaches or other symptoms caused by brain tumors
What Are the Side Effects of Steroids?
Steroids used in medical treatments can have some side effects. Talk to your doctor
and ask questions if you have concerns.
You may not have any side effects. But if they do happen, they'll only last as
long as you take the steroids. When treatment stops, things will return to normal
Some of the more common side effects of steroid treatments include:
weight gain, often in unexpected places such as the cheeks or the back of the
stomach upset or ulcers
osteoporosis (weaker bones)
higher blood pressure
higher blood sugar than normal. Sometimes, people develop diabetes temporarily.
If you already have diabetes, you'll need to do careful blood sugar level checks.
for girls, missed or late periods
Less common side effects include trouble fighting infections, acne flare-ups, and
increased facial hair.
How Do People Take Steroids?
Doctors can prescribe steroids for cancer treatment in several ways:
by an injection into the muscle (IM)
through a vein (IV)
by mouth (orally) as a liquid or pill
as a cream applied to the skin
The doctors will give you all the details, but there are some things to remember
when you take steroids by mouth for cancer treatment. Steroids, both the liquid and
the pill form, have a bitter somewhat unpleasant taste.
To make sure you don't miss any doses:
Mix the liquid steroid in a small amount of a tasty liquid, like your favorite
You can add a few drops of flavoring, like chocolate syrup or peppermint, to the
spoon of medicine.
Steroid pills are quite small and mixing them in applesauce or pudding can make
them easier to take.
What Else Should I Know About Steroids?
Steroids can irritate the stomach. To protect it, you should
take them with food in your stomach. The doctor might recommend stomach medicines,
either prescribed or over the counter (such as Zantac, Pepcid, or Prilosec). It might
help to start taking these medicines a couple of days before the steroids begin and
continue taking them for a few days after the steroids are done.
Don't stop the steroids without your doctor's advice. If you notice
anything strange while you take the steroids, tell the doctor right away. Sometimes,
steroid medicine is decreased slowly over time (described as being weaned or tapered).
Other times doctors may just stop the steroids. If this happens, your body could go
through a type of withdrawal if it's placed under a stressful situation like a new
fever or infection.
You might have a steroid card or medical alert bracelet. A lot
of steroid treatments happen in a doctor's office or clinic. But some teens on long-term
steroid treatment take pills at home, and might have a steroid card or wear a medical
alert bracelet. You should keep this card on hand or wear the medical alert bracelet
at all times. If there's an emergency, the card or bracelet will let doctors know
about the steroids, which can change the treatment they give you.