Steroids for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia | Cancer Research UK
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Steroids for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

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This page tells you about steroid therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. There is information on

 

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Steroid therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Steroids are substances made naturally in the body. They can also be made artificially and used as drugs. Treatment for ALL works better when you take steroids with the chemotherapy drugs. Steroids can be tablets or injections.

Side effects of steroids

Because you will not be taking the steroids for very long without a break, you are not likely to have bad side effects from them. But there are quite a few side effects you may notice. These can include increased appetite, increased energy and wakefulness, and indigestion.

When you have been taking steroids for some time you may notice some swelling in your hands, feet or eyelids. You may also put on weight. These symptoms are a result of water retention caused by the steroids.

Steroids are irritating to the lining of your stomach. You should not take them on a completely empty stomach. Try to have at least a slice of bread, or a glass of milk with them. If you can’t manage food, your doctor may give you another tablet to stop the steroids damaging your stomach. You must tell your doctor if you get stomach pains after taking steroids. Your doctor will be looking out for other side effects of your steroids. These are raised blood pressure, and sugar in your urine or raised sugar in your blood.

It is important for any doctor treating you for any reason to know you are taking steroids. So you will be given a card to carry at all times to say you are taking steroids.

 

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What steroids are

Steroids are substances made naturally in your body. Doctors use artificial steroids as medicines. Treatment for ALL works better when you take steroids with the chemotherapy drugs.

Steroids can be tablets or injections. Prednisolone and dexamethasone are the most common steroid drugs.

 

Steroid side effects

Because you will not be taking the steroids for very long without a break, you are not likely to have bad side effects from them. But you may notice quite a few effects. These can include

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased energy and wakefulness
  • Indigestion
  • An increased risk of infection
  • Mood swings

Steroids can cause water retention if you take them for some time. You may notice some swelling in your hands, feet or eyelids and you may put on weight. These effects are due to extra fluid in your body.

Steroids irritate the lining of your stomach. You should not take them on a completely empty stomach. Try to have at least a slice of bread, or a glass of milk with them. It is best to take them with a meal. But when you are having chemotherapy, you can’t always manage food. So, your doctor may give you other tablets to stop the steroids damaging your stomach. These may be

  • Ranitidine (Zantac)
  • Cimetidine (Tagomet)
  • Lansoprazole (Zoton)

Tell your doctor if you get stomach pains after taking steroids.

Your doctor will be looking out for other side effects of your steroids. These are

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Sugar in your urine or raised sugar in your blood

Your doctor may talk about steroid induced diabetes. This doesn’t mean you are diabetic. Your sugar levels usually go back to normal shortly after you stop taking steroids. Your doctor may ask you to test your urine for sugar. Or to bring urine samples to the hospital for tests.

Steroids can also cause mood swings, difficulty sleeping and muscle wasting (which can affect climbing stairs, getting out of a chair and lifting your arms). It's important to mention any new symptoms to your doctor so that they can help you. 

These side effects usually only happen if you have been taking steroids for some time. And they go away when you stop taking the steroids.

It is important for any doctor treating you to know you are taking steroids. So, in case of emergencies, you will have a card about taking steroids that you must carry with you at all times.

Chemotherapy can lower your resistance to infection, so it is best to avoid people with colds and flu while you are taking steroids and having chemotherapy.

 

A rare side effect

Very rarely, steroids can cause a reaction called steroid induced psychosis. People become excitable, confused and imagine things that are not true. This can be a frightening side effect. But it is rare and goes away when you stop taking the steroids.

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Updated: 12 May 2015