Steroids occur naturally in the body and have a number of important functions. There are different kinds of steroids and extra ones can be given as part of your cancer treatment for a number of reasons. The full name for the type used to treat cancer and side effects is corticosteroids. 

When are steroids used?

Your child might have steroids to:

  • Reduce swelling around the cancer – this is particularly useful for people with brain tumours
  • Help to treat the cancer itself, often alongside other chemotherapy treatment
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce your child's immune system's response to a transplant
  • Help relieve sickness when having chemotherapy
  • Help to increase appetite.

Most people who take steroids as part of their cancer treatment only need them for a few days or weeks. However, if your child has had a bone marrow transplant, they will need to take them for a longer period of time.

If your child’s disease or treatment stop their own steroid production, they may also be given replacement steroids to stop them feeling unwell. In this situation, low doses are used and they should not get any of the side effects described below.

How are steroids taken?

There are a number of different ways to take steroids, including:

  • as a tablet that you swallow
  • as a syrup or tablet that dissolves
  • as an injection into a vein or muscle (usually the leg or buttock muscle) or into the fat under the skin. If your child is taking steroids for a while, they will get a steroid card to carry in their pocket, purse or wallet. This is important information if they need any kind of medical treatment.

At the end of a long course of high-dose of steroids, your specialist will gradually reduce your child's dose rather than stopping them suddenly, as your child could be very unwell if the steroids were suddenly stopped.

This is because the body produces steroids naturally and steroids drugs can stop this process. Your child's body needs time to readjust so it can produce steroids naturally again.

Where next?

Updated November 2017, next review due 2019.