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NCCN Guidelines for Patients


Mycosis Fungoides, Version 1.2016


Overview of cancer treatments Steroids | Retinoids


Corticosteroids are called steroids for short. They

are a type of drug that is often used to relieve

inflammation. They also are toxic to lymphocytes and

therefore have anti-cancer effects in lymphoma.

Some steroids are applied directly to skin lesions.

They are known as “topical” treatments. Other

steroids are pills or liquids that can treat cancer

anywhere in the body. Doctors use the term

“systemic” when talking about a cancer treatment that

is absorbed into and spreads throughout the body.

Systemic steroids are a part of some chemotherapy


Side effects are unhealthy or unpleasant physical or

emotional responses to treatment. Most side effects

of steroids fade away once the drugs are stopped.

Common side effects of systemic steroids include

feeling hungry, trouble sleeping, mood changes, slow

wound healing, upset stomach, high blood sugar,

weight gain, and swelling in the ankles, feet, and

hands. Long-term use may cause thinning of the skin,

stretch marks, or both. These side effects are more

likely with more powerful steroids.


Retinoids are mostly known as treatments for acne.

However, they also stop some types of cancer

cells from growing. How they work isn’t well known.

Retinoids enter cells and bind to retinoic receptors.

Retinoic receptors help to manage the life cycle of


Some retinoids are applied directly to skin lesions.

Bexarotene gel and tazarotene are topical treatments.

Other retinoids are made as pills and treat

mycosis fungoides anywhere in the body. Acitretin,

bexarotene, isotretinoin, and tretinoin are oral

retinoids. Bexarotene is the only one approved by the

U.S. FDA (


ood and




dministration) for treating

mycosis fungoides.

Most side effects of retinoids fade away once the

drugs are stopped. Common side effects include high

levels of fatty acids in blood (hyperlipidemia) and

low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism). You

may also develop dry skin, muscle and joint pain,

headaches, bad night vision, and light sensitivity.

Retinoids may cause severe harm to unborn babies

and should never be used by pregnant women.