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Read about steriod therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and how it is used for treatment.

Steroids are substances made naturally in the body but they can also be made artificially. Steroids can be used to control sickness or as part of some CLL treatments.

Steroids for chemotherapy sickness

Steroids can be used before and during chemotherapy treatments to control sickness. They can be tablets or injections. For chemotherapy into the bloodstream, it is most common to have a steroid injection at the same time as your chemotherapy and then take tablets for a few days at home.

The dose is usually quite low. You only take them for a few days or a week at a time.

You take steroids with each cycle of treatment so you may be on and off them for quite a while.

Steroids as treatment

You might have steroids as part of your treatment, for example they are part of CHOP chemotherapy. You might have them with chemotherapy, or on their own.

Steroids can be useful because they can help to control the leukaemic cells. They don't stop your bone marrow from making red blood cells and platelets. So, if you need treatment, but have anaemia or low platelets, your doctor may recommend them.

Your doctor might suggest high dose steroid treatment if your leukaemia has stopped responding to chemotherapy (refractory CLL). Doctors often refer to this high dose steroid treatment as HDMP (high dose methylprednisolone).

Doctors often suggest this treatment if you have uncomfortable bulky lymph nodes. Or if tests on your leukaemia cells show they have particular gene mutations.

Most people in these situations find that steroid treatment can control the CLL for some months, more than a year in some people. When your leukaemia starts to develop again, you might get another response if you have steroids again.

How you have them

You have steroids through a drip or as tablets. Normally, you have treatment for 5 days every month. The number of treatments you have depends on how well it controls your leukaemia.

Possible risks

Steroids increase your risk of infection, so your doctor might ask you to take antibiotics or antiviral drugs at the same time.

Steroids can also damage the stomach lining. So, your doctor might not be able to give you this treatment if you have had a stomach or duodenal ulcer in the past.

There are a lot of potential side effects when you take steroids. We have detailed information about how steroids work and their side effects in our cancer drug section.

You should never stop taking steroids, or change your dose without instructions from your doctor. It can be dangerous to stop taking them suddenly and your doctor will advise on how to gradually cut down your dose.
Last reviewed: 
07 Dec 2017
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    B Eichorst and others. Annals of Oncology, 2015, Vol. 26 (Supplement 5): 78-84

  • British National Formulary

    Accessed December 2017

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium 

    Accessed December 2017

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