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Steroid treatment for prostate cancer

Steroids are substances made naturally in the body. They can also be made artificially and used as drugs. Steroids may be used to treat prostate cancer that is not responding to hormone therapy treatment. They may also be used alongside chemotherapy treatment.

Side effects

You are not likely to have bad side effects from the steroids. But there are quite a few side effects you may notice. These can include an increased appetite, increased energy and wakefulness, and indigestion. 

If 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. 

Steroids are irritating to the lining of your stomach. You must tell your doctor if you get stomach pains after taking steroids. Your doctor and nurses will be looking out for other side effects of your steroids, including raised blood pressure and sugar in your urine.

Steroid card

It is important for any doctor treating you for any reason to know that you are taking steroids. Your doctor will give you a card to carry, saying that you are taking steroids. You will need to carry the card with you at all times.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating prostate cancer section.

 

 

About steroids for prostate cancer

Steroids are substances made naturally in the body. They are sometimes used to treat prostate cancer that has spread. Doctors use them when the cancer stops responding to hormone therapy. This is called hormone refractory prostate cancer. The steroids don't cure the cancer but can shrink it and stop it growing for some time. 

Dexamethasone is the most commonly used type of steroid for prostate cancer. You usually have dexamethasone as tablets. Sometimes steroids such as prednisone may be used alongside chemotherapy.

 

Side effects of steroids

You are not likely to have bad side effects from steroids for prostate cancer. But there are quite a few side effects you may notice. These can include

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased energy and wakefulness
  • 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. Steroids can cause water retention. It is the extra fluid in your body that causes these symptoms.

Steroids can inflame 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. Preferably, you should take them with a meal. Your doctor may give you another tablet to stop the steroids damaging your stomach. This may be ranitidine (Zantac), cimetidine (Tagomet), omerazole (Losec), lansoprazole (Zoton) or pantoprazole (Protium). You must tell your doctor if you get stomach pains after taking steroids.

Your doctor and nurses 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

Steroids can raise the sugar level in your blood but this doesn’t mean you will be diabetic. Your sugar levels usually go back to normal shortly after you stop taking steroids. You may be asked to test your urine for sugar. Or your nurse may ask you to take samples to the hospital for testing.

Because your resistance to infection is lowered, it is best to avoid people with colds and flu while you are taking steroids.

These side effects are unlikely to happen unless you have been taking steroids for some time. They are usually temporary. They should go away when you stop taking the steroids.

 

Steroid card

It is important for any doctor treating you, for any reason, to know that you are taking steroids. So, in case of emergencies you will be given a card to carry, saying you are taking steroids. You will need to carry the card with you at all times.

 

More information about steroids for prostate cancer

We have information about steroids and their side effects in the cancer drugs section. You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions.

Our prostate cancer organisations page gives details of other people who can give information about prostate cancer treatments. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group.

Our prostate cancer reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources discussing treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 25 February 2014