This article appeared in December 2000 (see Ann's NOTE at end):
Cancer Death Blamed on Alternative Drug
Rocket fuel ingredient part of victim's self-treatment
By E'Louise Ondash
TUESDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthScout) -- It's "buyer beware" when it comes to buying alternative health-care products from Internet peddlers -- a sad lesson learned by one cancer patient who had hoped that a chemical used in rocket fuel -- but touted to help cancer -- would at least slow the progress of his cancer.
Hydrazine sulfate, an industrial chemical, has had an informal reputation for reducing or stopping the wasting that goes along with cancer. Now, doctors in South Carolina and Hawaii have documented a case of liver and kidney failure they believe was caused by hydrazine sulfate. Their findings appear in the December 2000 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The 55-year-old retired Maui resident had cancer of the maxillary sinuses, cavities just below the eyes. He had refused surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, then bought hydrazine sulfate over the Internet. For four months, he took 180 milligrams a day as recommended on the Web site, then, when he developed jaundice and a rash, sought conventional medical help. Despite aggressive treatment, researchers say, his liver and kidneys failed and he died.
"The notion that all alternative remedies are without side effects is not true," says Dr. Naoki Tsai, chief of the liver disease section at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and co-author of the study. "I think they are dangerous and there are more people affected by alternative medications that we realize. It's only the serious side effects that get reported."
Some alternative medicines are good, Tsai adds, "but there is no regulatory agency to make sure they are effective and have good safety standards."
Dr. Martin Black, medical director of the liver transplant unit at Temple University in Philadelphia, agrees.
"There are many important messages here," says Black, who wrote an accompanying editorial on the study. "[Besides] buyer beware, patients need to report that they are taking these compounds to their doctor, and they need to be supervised."
This death will probably do little to dampen enthusiasm for hydrazine sulfate, Black says, "but there seems to be little justification for the drug's easy availability on the Internet and its unsupervised use."
Oddly enough, Black adds, the "most useful aspect of the death" may be that it provides a clue as to the cause of liver failure in some people who take isoniazid, a common drug used to treat tuberculosis.
"Hydrazine and acetylhydrazine are formed during the metabolism of isoniazid, and it has been hypothesized that they play a role in causing liver injury during isoniazid therapy," he writes.
Hydrazine sulfate first surfaced as a treatment for the wasting associated with cancer in the 1970s, according to the National Cancer Institute. That's when Dr. Joseph Gold of Syracuse, N.Y., proposed that the compound could interrupt the altered glucose metabolism seen in cancer patients. He also found that hydrazine sulfate inhibited tumor growth and sometimes enhanced the effect of anti-cancer drugs. In his studies, Gold reported that tumors regressed and patients improved. Some Russian physicians also reported similar results.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Cancer Institute sponsored studies to see whether the claims about hydrazine sulfate were true. The first study, a small one, showed some promise, but later, three larger trials, published in 1994, showed it did nothing for cancer patients.
Hydrazine sulfate costs about $60 a month when purchased over the Internet.
The rising interest in alternative health care, a growing skepticism of conventional medicine, and the easy availability of information and drugs on the Internet have changed consumer access to health care, Black says, "and access to these potent compounds makes the idea of an FDA almost irrelevant."
However, he urges patients to at least tell their physicians if they are taking alternative medicines.
"The only credible source of information is their family physicians," Black says. "It often happens that patients [with hepatitis] come to me and will show me something they have found on the Internet and ask permission to use it. Often they are safe, and I'll tell them this."
What To Do
Don't assume something is safe just because ads lead you to believe it is. Check with your doctor before taking any drugs.
For up-to-date information on cancer treatments, call the Cancer Information Service, 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237), a program of the National Cancer Institute. Spanish speakers are available.
To learn more about hydrazine sulfate research, visit the National Cancer Institute. To learn more about the FDA's campaign to inform consumers about alternative therapies sold over the Internet, visit Operation Cure All. For tips on buying health-related products, visit the Federal Trade Commission's consumer site.
Thanks to HealthScout for this article.
Ann's NOTE: Hydrazine Sulfate is an MAO inhibitor. That is a class of drugs and causes problems in the liver if inappropriate foods or drugs are taken simultaneously. I do not know if this man was aware of the serious difficulties. Anyone thinking of taking this product MUST read the list of things NOT TO DO while taking hydrazine sulfate.
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