Other common name(s): Sehydrin, HS
Scientific/medical name(s): none
Hydrazine sulfate is a chemical commonly used in industrial processes, such as rare metal refining and the making of rocket fuel, rust-prevention products, and insecticides. It is used as an alternative method to treat some symptoms of advanced cancer. Hydrazine sulfate is usually produced in a laboratory but does occur naturally in some plants and mushrooms.
Most carefully designed clinical studies have not shown that hydrazine sulfate helps people with cancer live longer or feel better. Some, but not all, studies have found it may help reduce weight loss in those with advanced cancer. It may also cause potentially serious side effects.
How is it promoted for use?
Supporters claim hydrazine sulfate may relieve cachexia, a syndrome marked by loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, and muscle wasting. It is one of the most devastating syndromes resulting from cancer and conditions such as AIDS. Cachexia affects about half of all cancer patients, especially those with advanced cancer of the lung, pancreas, or digestive system. It causes about 10% to 20% of all cancer deaths.
According to some theories, cancer cachexia is caused by cancerous tumors using too much energy (in the form of blood sugar), preventing it from being used for normal body functions. For example, energy that should be used to maintain muscle mass is redirected to the tumor. Supporters claim that hydrazine sulfate may block a key enzyme that controls blood sugar levels in the body, restoring the proper energy balance and halting the progressive decline of cachexia.
There are also claims that hydrazine sulfate might affect the cancer itself. By affecting blood sugar levels, it may help prevent tumors from getting more fuel to grow.
What does it involve?
Hydrazine sulfate is usually given as a pill or capsule. It can also be injected. A common dose is 60 milligrams (mg), 3 times a day for 35 to 40 days. Treatment is then stopped for 2 to 6 weeks. This cycle can be repeated many times.
Hydrazine sulfate is not approved for use with cancer patients in the United States. Doctors can obtain it through the investigational new drug (IND) program of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Canada, hydrazine sulfate is available by prescription. It is widely used in Europe and in Russia, where it is known as Sehydrin.
What is the history behind it?
Different hydrazine compounds have been studied for more than 90 years as a treatment for cancer and to reduce the symptoms associated with cancer such as weight loss, fatigue, muscle wasting, and decreased appetite. One hydrazine compound, procarbazine, is approved by the FDA for use against cancer.
Hydrazine sulfate was popularized as an unconventional cancer treatment in the mid-1970s by a cancer researcher, Joseph Gold, MD, director of the Syracuse Cancer Research Institute in New York. He based his ideas on the research of Otto Warburg, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1931. Dr. Gold reported that hydrazine sulfate inhibited the growth of tumors in rodents as well as in people with advanced cancer. He recommended its use for people with several kinds of cancer including cancer of the breast, colon and rectum, ovary, lung, and thyroid, Hodgkin disease and other lymphomas, melanomas, and neuroblastomas. He believed it would be most effective used with conventional cancer treatments .
Hydrazine sulfate was a popular alternative cancer treatment in the United States until the FDA stopped companies from selling it directly to the public in the mid-1970s.
Several studies were conducted in the 1980s and 1990s using hydrazine sulfate with chemotherapy (see next section).
What is the evidence?
Studies show that hydrazine sulfate has many effects in the body. However, research has produced conflicting results. Some studies have found that hydrazine sulfate inhibits the growth of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals, while others report that the chemical can damage DNA and trigger the development of tumors. It also may promote the growth of existing tumors. Some early laboratory studies found that hydrazine sulfate increased the occurrence of tumors in some animals. It is still unclear whether hydrazine sulfate causes or contributes to the development of cancer in humans.
One reason offered to support the use of hydrazine sulfate—that cachexia occurs because cancer cells use too much energy—is inconsistent with the way cachexia is now understood to work. Cachexia is a complex process and is caused largely by cancer cells releasing hormones and other substances that influence the function of normal cells.
Research on hydrazine sulfate in humans has not been encouraging. Several randomized clinical trials found that hydrazine sulfate treatment did not reduce the size of tumors or increase patient survival time. Some patients reported feeling better for brief periods during treatment with hydrazine sulfate, including reports of less pain, lower fever, and increased appetite. Other studies reported that patients treated with the chemical had more normal glucose metabolism, weight gain, and improved appetite. Some patients developed feelings of well-being after nearly 6 months of therapy.
A 1990 study of 65 patients with advanced lung cancer found that adding hydrazine sulfate to their chemotherapy regimen improved their nutritional status. Patients consumed more calories and showed other positive metabolic changes. Patients who started the study in better condition and were given hydrazine sulfate lived longer than those taking a placebo. Among those who started in worse condition, hydrazine sulfate did not improve survival. Based on this study, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) felt that further studies with more patients were needed.
Reports published in 1994 based on 3 studies sponsored by NCI described outcomes of a total of 636 patients. Two studies looked at advanced lung cancer patients who also were receiving chemotherapy. The third study was limited to patients with advanced colorectal cancer not receiving chemotherapy. In all 3 studies, patients were randomly chosen to receive hydrazine sulfate or a placebo. None of these well-controlled studies showed that hydrazine sulfate provided a benefit to cancer patients. Nerve damage occurred more often and quality of life was worse among the group receiving hydrazine sulfate. In the colorectal cancer study, survival was shorter in the hydrazine sulfate group. After the studies were published, supporters of hydrazine sulfate claimed that the studies were flawed because some of the patients were getting other drugs (such as tranquilizers) that could alter the drug's effectiveness. A review by the U.S. General Accounting Office, a federal agency, found that the studies were done correctly and that their conclusions were valid.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
Side effects are uncommon but can include mild to moderate levels of nausea, vomiting, itching, dizziness, poor motor coordination, and/or tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.
Hydrazine sulfate is a moderate monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). It should not be taken with certain anti-anxiety medicines, cough suppressants (such as dextromethorphan), stimulants (amphetamines), antidepressants, tranquilizers, barbiturates, alcohol, or foods high in tyramine (for example, aged cheeses and fermented products), as it could lead to very high blood pressure levels and other potential harm.
At very high doses hydrazine sulfate may cause liver damage. People with diabetes should use hydrazine sulfate with caution, as it may affect blood sugar levels. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this therapy. Hydrazine sulfate increases development of some forms of cancer in laboratory animals and has been classified as a potential carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Relying on this type of treatment alone, and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer, may have serious health consequences.
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
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University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Hydrazine Sulfate Detailed Scientific Review. 2007. Accessed at: http://www.mdanderson.org/departments/cimer/display.cfm?id=AD1A435D-17B1-11D5-811000508B603A14&method=displayFull&pn=6EB86A59-EBD9-11D4-810100508B603A14 on June 11, 2008.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 11/01/2008