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Steroids occur naturally in the body in small amounts. They are needed to control a variety of functions, including the immune system and to help reduce inflammation.
Man-made steroids, also called corticosteroids, are an anti-inflammatory medication. These help to reduce swelling, and can be used as a treatment for many different conditions. They are different from anabolic steroids, which are often taken illegally to increase muscle mass.
Steroids used in cancer treatment include:
When you have breast cancer, you can develop certain symptoms as a result of the cancer itself, or as a side effect of treatment.
There are a number of reasons you might have steroids as part of your cancer treatment.
Steroids can be given as an injection or in tablet form.
Dexamethasone is the steroid that is prescribed most commonly in breast cancer.
Dexamethasone tablets come in 0.5mg, 2mg and 4mg doses.
You will normally be prescribed a higher dose to begin with, which is then gradually reduced.
DO NOT STOP YOUR STEROID TABLETS SUDDENLY.
Dexamethasone should be taken with, or just after food, as it can irritate the lining of the stomach. The tablets should be swallowed whole, and taken with a glass of water or milk.
Your doctor will usually prescribe a ‘stomach protector’ medication such as Lansoprazole or Omeprazole for the course of your steroids.
- Feeling thirsty
- Passing urine more often
- Feeling more tired than usual.
If you have diabetes, you may notice your blood sugars are higher than usual. Please discuss this with your doctor as it may be necessary to adjust your diabetes medication.
To help reduce the risk of getting an infection it is important to:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid people with an infection, such as a cold
- Avoid crowded places, where the risk is higher picking up an infection
- Have your flu jab.
If you are prescribed steroids for three weeks or more then you will be provided with a steroid card. You should always carry this card with you so that if in the event of an emergency, a doctor will know that you are taking steroid medication.
Your body will begin making its own natural steroids again slowly after you have stopped taking steroids, although this can take a few days to happen.
If the steroid tablets you have been taking are suddenly stopped, you may experience withdrawal effects including:
The dose you take will be gradually reduced to lower the risk of withdrawal effects.
These are some of the symptoms that can develop with long term use of steroids and include:
Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these side effects,as they may be reduced by lowering the dose of your steroids.
Important points to remember:
Breast Care Nurses Helpline
9am-5pm Monday to Friday 01273 696955 extension 64111
Please contact your Breast Cancer Nurse Specialist or your GPif you require further support or information.
This information is intended for patients receiving care in Brighton & Hove or Haywards Heath.
The information here is for guidance purposes only and is in no way intended to replace professional clinical advice by a qualified practitioner.
Publication Date: October 2021
Review Date: July 2024