In the types of cancer listed above, corticosteroids produce their benefits by acting against the cancer itself. Corticosteroids can also produce benefits in these and other types of cancer indirectly by acting on a complication of the cancer rather than the cancer itself. There are certain symptoms of cancer that can be controlled temporarily by corticosteroids, regardless of whether or not the cancer itself is sensitive to these hormones.
For example, corticosteroids can temporarily relieve the symptoms of cancer in the brain — headache, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness and blurred vision. They relieve these symptoms by reducing the swelling and pressure around the brain cancer, not by shrinking the cancer itself. By the same means, that is, reducing the swelling around it but not the size of the cancer itself, they can also temporarily improve breathing due to pressure on the wind pipe, congestion due to pressure on blood vessels, or numbness and paralysis of the legs due to pressure on the spinal cord.
Corticosteroids can also control symptoms of excessive calcium in the blood—nausea, vomiting, thirst and the production of very large amounts of urine. They do this simply by lowering the calcium level, not by acting on the cancer. They can also improve energy and appetite, again without having any effect on the cancer itself. Fever is another symptom that can be relieved by these hormones. Corticosteroids can also be used to treat a certain type of anaemia which is caused by some types of cancer. Anaemia due to antibodies against red blood cells (haemolytic anaemias) can often be corrected by corticosteroid treatment.
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