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 (
dministration) for treating
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.