Find out how steroids work, and how they can be used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
What they are
Steroids are substances made naturally in the body. They can also be made artificially and used as medicines. Doctors prescribe steroids for many different reasons. And they are used for many different illnesses and conditions.
There are different types of steroids, including prednisolone, dexamethasone or methylprednisolone. You can have them as tablets or injections.
How steroids are used in NHL
In NHL you are likely to have steroids along with your chemotherapy drugs. Doctors have found that the treatment is more successful when you take steroids with your chemotherapy.
You take steroids for a few days or a week each time you have a cycle of chemotherapy. So you will be on and off steroids for quite a while.
Steroids might also help to:
- reduce side effects of treatment (such as feeling sick)
- stop allergic reactions
- increase appetite
Because you will not be taking the steroids for very long without a break, you might only have mild side effects.
Most side effects only happen if you are taking steroids for a long time. They will go away when you stop taking the steroids. Side effects include:
- increased appetite
- having more energy
- difficulty sleeping
- changes in your mood (feeling irritable or sad)
If you take steroids for a long time
You might have:
- raised blood pressure
- increased risk of infection
- raised sugar level in your blood and urine
- swelling of your hands, feet or eyelids (because of extra fluid in your body)
- increase in weight
Testing your urine
Your doctor or nurse may ask you to test your urine for sugar. Or you may need to take urine samples to the hospital for testing. Steroids can change the way your body handles sugar. This change is temporary. It will stop when you stop having steroids.
Because your resistance to infection is lowered, it is best to avoid people with colds and flu while you are taking steroids, and while you are on chemotherapy. You should take care to avoid chicken pox, unless you know that you are immune because you've had it yourself. The virus that causes chicken pox can make you very ill if you have a weakened immune system.
It is important for any doctor treating you, for any reason, to know you are taking steroids. So, in case of emergencies, your doctor will give you a card to carry to say you are taking steroids. You should carry the card with you at all times.