Patient & Family Education Materials

Start over with a New Search

Corticosteroids for chemotherapy

Article Translations: (Spanish)

How does this medicine work?Corticosteroids are hormones made in the adrenal glands to help the body respond to stress, such as injury or illness. They are not the same as steroids that some athletes have misused to increase muscle mass and strength.Corticosteroids are given to reduce the function of cancer cells. They also help other chemotherapy medicines work better.How should I give it?Corticosteroids can be given by mouth as a pill or liquid, or by injection into the muscle or vein. Give it at regular times to keep a steady level in the bloodstream.Your child should be awake and alert when taking any medicine. Follow the checked instructions below:___ If using the liquid form, shake well right before using. Draw up the correct amount in the medicine dropper or oral syringe. Give a small squirt of the medicine inside the cheek. To avoid choking, let your child swallow each squirt before giving more. ___ For babies, mix the medicine with a small amount of formula or breast milk and give it with a bottle nipple before a feeding. Do not add medicine to a whole bottle because if your baby does not finish it, you will not know how much of the medicine was taken.___ For children who cannot swallow pills:

  • Crush the tablet in a tablet crusher or between 2 spoons inside a clear plastic bag.
  • Mix the powder with a very small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of soft food, such as applesauce, chocolate syrup, ice cream, jelly, or yogurt. Make sure your child takes all of the mixture.

Other instructions:        Are there any precautions about food or other medicines?Give it with food or milk to prevent an upset stomach.If your child will be taking corticosteroids for more than a month, see the education sheet "Corticosteroids and nutrition" to prevent some side effects.Check with the doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist if taking any other medicines, vitamins, herbal products, or over-the-counter medicines.What should I do if a dose is missed?If one dose is missed, give it as soon as you remember, unless it is less than 6 hours before the next dose. In that case, skip the missed dose and go back to the regular dosing schedule. Never give a double dose.If your child vomits (throws up) within 30 minutes after receiving a dose, give it again. If your child vomits after 30 minutes, do not repeat the dose.Call the doctor if your child misses or vomits 2 doses in a row.What are the side effects?Most side effects occur with high doses and long treatment, and end when the medicine is stopped. They may include:Common

  • fullness of the face and neck
  • increased chance of infection
  • mood changes
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • weight gain


  • stomach irritation
  • aches and pains
  • restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • acne
  • stretch marks
  • high blood sugar
  • damage to large bones near the joints


  • slowed growth
  • decreased bone density
  • cataracts
  • kidney problems

When should I call the doctor?

  • fever, colds, sore throat, or infections
  • if your child has diabetes and the blood sugar goes up
  • increase in urination or drinking
  • muscle weakness
  • black, tarry stool (bowel movement)
  • blood in the vomit

What else do I need to know?If corticosteroids are taken for more than one month, they should be stopped gradually as directed by the doctor, to allow the body to start making its own again. In case of injury or illness, please tell the health care provider that your child may need extra corticosteroids. An identification band is important if your child is taking corticosteroids for a long time.You and your child should know the names of all the medicines he or she is taking. It is important to share this information with anyone involved in your child's care. Immunizations should not be given without your doctor's approval.Always make sure you have enough medicine on hand. Each time you refill your prescriptions, check to see how many refills are left. If no refills are left, the pharmacy will need 2 or 3 days to contact the clinic to renew the prescription.Check the label and expiration date before giving each dose. Ask your pharmacist what to do with outdated or unused medicines. If there is no "take-back" program:

  • Empty them into a leak-proof container.
  • Add a liquid to help pills break down.
  • Add coffee grounds, dirt, flour, kitty litter, salt, or other substance.
  • Put on the lid and throw it in the trash.

Store all medicines in their original container and away from direct sunlight or heat. Do not store in humid places such as the bathroom. Keep them out of children's reach, locked up if possible.If too much or the wrong kind of medicine is taken, call the oncology clinic right away.Questions?This sheet is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the doctor or pharmacist.Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Patient/Family Education
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Last reviewed 8/2015 ©Copyright

Generic name Brand name
cortisone Cortone®, other brands
dexamethasone Decadron®, other brands
hydrocortisone Cortef®, other brands
methylprednisolone Medrol®, other brands
prenisolone Pediapred®, Prelone®, other brands
prednisone many brands

Back To Top

This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

© 2023 Children's Minnesota