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Steroids

Find out about steroid treatment, when and how you have it for prostate cancer and the possible side effects.

What steroids are

Steroids are naturally made by our bodies in small amounts. They help to control many functions. But steroids can also be made artificially and used as drugs to treat different diseases, including cancer.

Steroids used to treat cancer are usually a type called corticosteroids. These are man made versions of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands just above the kidneys.

Corticosteroids include:

  • prednisolone
  • methylprednisolone
  • dexamethasone

When you have it

You have steroid treatment for cancer that has spread. You might take steroids:

  • when hormone treatment is no longer working
  • to help improve your appetite and boost your energy levels
  • alongside other treatments, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy like abiraterone

Types of steroid treatment

Steroids you might take include:
  • dexamethasone
  • prednisone
  • hydrocortisone

How you have steroids

You could have steroids as:

  • tablets that you swallow -  take your tablets after a meal, or with milk as they can irritate your stomach
  • liquid - this is easier if you find swallowing tablets hard
You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you

Side effects

Find out about possible side effects of steroids and what to do if you have them.

Side effects of steroids

Important information

Chicken pox and shingles

Keep away from people who have chicken pox or shingles if you have never had these illnesses. They could make you very ill.

If you do come into contact with someone who has them, tell your doctor or nurse straight away.

Other medicines, foods and drink

Drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses or dentists that you’re having these drugs if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and Zostavax (shingles vaccine).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid contact with people who’ve had vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines). This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. So, you mustn't change their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination.

You also need to avoid anyone who has had oral polio or typhoid vaccination recently.

Stopping steroid treatment

Take your steroids exactly as your doctor has told you.

When you take steroid tablets, the higher amounts in your bloodstream stop your body from making its own supply.

Never just stop taking your tablets. You must cut them down gradually with help and guidance from your doctor.

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​