Adverse effects of steroid therapy in children with pharyngitis with unsuspected malignancy

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012 Aug;28(8):807-9. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e31826288e5.


Pharyngitis is a common clinical complaint for children and accounts for 3.1% of all visits to selected ambulatory care settings. Most children with pharyngitis have benign, self-limited disease with infrequent complications such as peritonsillar abscess, mastoiditis, or lymphadenitis. Recent studies have touted the benefits of steroids in the treatment of children with pharyngitis for pain control. These studies do not address the potential life-threatening complication of steroids in patients with pharyngitis or lymphadenopathy in the setting of undiagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) or lymphoma. We report 4 cases of children treated with steroids for pharyngitis or adenitis that subsequently were diagnosed with ALL or lymphoma. If steroids are to be used in children with pharyngitis or adenitis, the following recommendations should be strongly considered: Careful history and physical examination should be obtained. Presence of hepatosplenomegaly or lymphadenopathy outside the cervical region should raise suspicions regarding an underlying malignancy. Normal results of complete blood cell count in the setting of clear cut pharyngitis with exudates and a lack of significant adenopathy essentially rules out the diagnosis of ALL. Because traditional analgesics are available, which do not affect the curability of ALL or lymphoma, the routine use of steroids in pharyngitis in children should be considered only in rare circumstances.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Blood Cell Count
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Hepatomegaly
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, T-Cell / diagnosis*
  • Leukemia, T-Cell / therapy
  • Lymphadenitis / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Pharyngitis / drug therapy*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / diagnosis*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / therapy
  • Splenomegaly


  • Glucocorticoids