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Steroids (adults)

Steroids are hormones that are produced naturally in our bodies in small amounts. They help to control various functions, such as inflammation (swelling) when our body is injured.

Sometimes our bodies don't produce enough steroids to reduce the swelling. Fortunately, steroids can also be created in a laboratory for medical purposes, and given to reduce the swelling in these cases.

The steroids used during brain tumour treatment are NOT anabolic steroids, which are used by some athletes to build muscle.

Steroids and brain tumours

Swelling around a brain tumour can be caused by surgery or radiotherapy that may be part of your treatment. This can put pressure on surrounding tissues and cause symptoms such as headaches, sickness and seizures (fits). You may be given steroids to reduce the swelling, and so relieve those symptoms.

You may be given a low dosage of steroids if you are having chemotherapy or radiotherapy and experiencing nausea. They are also used to protect the brain at the time of surgery.

Steroids, therefore, help with symptom management rather than treating the tumour itself. As steroids are fast-acting drugs, the effects caused by the tumour could reduce quite quickly.

How are steroids taken?

Steroids can be taken:

  • Orally - as tablets or, sometimes, as liquid medicine
    (colour and dosage will depend on which steroid you have been prescribed
  • By injection into a vein or muscle
    (they are only likely to be given by injection when you are in hospital or when you are unable to take tablets by mouth)

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