Hydrazine Sulfate (PDQ®)
NOTE: The information in this summary is no longer being updated and is provided for reference purposes only.
- Hydrazine sulfate is a chemical compound that has been studied as a treatment for cancer and certain side effects caused by cancer (see Question 1).
- Hydrazine sulfate may block the tumor from taking in glucose, which is a type of sugar that tumor cells need to grow (see Question 3).
- In randomized clinical trials (a type of research study), hydrazine sulfate did not make tumors shrink or go away. In some randomized trials, however, hydrazine sulfate was reported to be helpful in treating anorexia and cachexia caused by cancer. (See Question 6.)
- Hydrazine sulfate is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of hydrazine sulfate as a cancer treatment, except in clinical trials (see Question 8).
Questions and Answers About Hydrazine Sulfate
- What is hydrazine sulfate?
What is the history of the discovery and use of hydrazine sulfate as a complementary or alternative treatment for cancer?
It has been known since the early 1900s that hydrazine compounds are toxic to animals and to humans. More than 400 hydrazine-related compounds have been tested for their ability to kill cancer cells. One of these compounds, procarbazine, has been used to treat Hodgkin disease, melanoma, and lung cancer since the 1960s.
In view of procarbazine’s anticancer activity, hydrazine sulfate (a compound similar to procarbazine) was studied for its effectiveness in fighting cancer beginning in the 1970s. Studies of hydrazine sulfate as a treatment for cancer-related cachexia also began during this time.
Hydrazine compounds have also been used to make rocket fuel, as herbicides (chemicals that kill plants), and as chemical agents in boiler and cooling-tower water systems. Many scientists consider hydrazine sulfate and other similar substances to be cancer-causing agents and are concerned about the safety of using these compounds.
What is the theory behind the claim that hydrazine sulfate is useful in treating cancer?
Two theories have been suggested to explain how hydrazine sulfate acts against cancer and cachexia:
- Hydrazine sulfate may prevent the body from making sugar that cancer cells need to grow. It has been suggested that cachexia occurs because the cancer is using too much of the body's sugar, preventing healthy cells from getting what they need to live. This causes tissues to die and muscle to waste away, and the patient loses weight.
- Hydrazine sulfate may block tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). This is a substance made by the body’s white blood cells to fight infection and tissue damage. High levels of TNF-alpha have been found in cancer patients. These high levels of TNF-alpha may cause loss of appetite, tiredness, and the breakdown of muscle tissue. As muscle breaks down, it makes sugar that the cancer cells use to grow. Blocking the TNF-alpha might stop tumor growth and prevent cachexia.
- How is hydrazine sulfate administered?
Have any preclinical (laboratory or animal) studies been conducted using hydrazine sulfate?
Research in a laboratory or using animals is done to find out if a drug, procedure, or treatment is likely to be safe and useful in humans. These preclinical studies are done before any testing in humans is begun. The following has been learned from preclinical studies of hydrazine sulfate:
- In most studies with rats, mice, and hamsters, hydrazine sulfate caused an increase in lung, liver, and breast cancers.
- When used alone against certain types of cancer (including melanoma, leukemia, bladder, breast, and prostate), hydrazine sulfate slowed tumor growth in some animal studies and showed no effect in others. In cases where tumor growth was slowed the most, the animals lost large amounts of weight. This finding does not support the proposed use of hydrazine sulfate to treat cachexia caused by cancer.
- When hydrazine sulfate was combined with an anticancer drug, it seemed to improve the anticancer effects in rats and mice. When hydrazine sulfate was combined with an anticancer drug that affects the way cells use sugar, however, it helped in some studies and did not help in others.
- Preclinical studies by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that hydrazine sulfate showed no anticancer activity except in one type of cancer in rats. The NCI decided not to continue studying the compound as a treatment for cancer. Studies of hydrazine sulfate as a treatment for cancer-related anorexia and cachexia continued.
Have any clinical trials (research studies with people) of hydrazine sulfate been conducted?
Clinical trials are a type of research study that tests how well new drugs or other treatments work in people. There have been many studies of hydrazine sulfate in patients with advanced cancer. Researchers looked at the following:
Clinical trials of hydrazine sulfate have reported the following:
- In the mid 1970s, clinical trials by a drug company found that a small number of patients who were treated with hydrazine sulfate for advanced cancer reported having a better appetite, losing less weight, feeling stronger, or having less pain. In some patients, the tumor got smaller or did not grow, or there was improvement in a cancer-related symptom. These clinical trials do not prove that hydrazine sulfate is effective for advanced cancer, however, because of weaknesses in study design. There was no control group (a group of patients who did not receive hydrazine sulfate) and half of the patients in the trial could not be counted in the results for reasons that include missing information, short treatment times, and receiving other treatment along with the hydrazine sulfate.
- From the 1970s to the mid 1990s, Russian studies with hydrazine sulfate had mixed results. Little information was reported about the patients and their treatment and about the study design and methods. All of the patients in these studies also received standard treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Therefore, it is not known if results were caused by hydrazine sulfate or one of the standard treatments, or both.
- Clinical studies funded by the NCI in the 1970s found that hydrazine sulfate did not cause tumors to shrink or go away. Some patients reported small improvements in appetite, pain, and weight, but they did not last. These studies did not include control groups.
- Four randomized controlled trials were done in the 1990s. A randomized trial is a study in which the patients are assigned by chance to separate groups to compare different treatments; neither the researchers nor the patients can choose which group. These trials compared hydrazine sulfate with a placebo (an inactive substance that looks like the treatment being tested). The results showed that hydrazine sulfate was not effective in treating cancer. In some cases, it was found to be harmful.
- In three of the trials, lung cancer patients received either hydrazine sulfate or a placebo, along with anticancer drugs. The patients who received hydrazine sulfate did not live longer or have their tumors shrink any more than the placebo group. In one of the studies, patients who took hydrazine sulfate showed better nutritional status than patients in the placebo group, although the increase in body weight was small. In another of the studies, patients who received hydrazine sulfate had a worse quality of life than patients who received the same anticancer drugs plus the placebo. 
- A fourth trial found that patients with colorectal cancer who received only hydrazine sulfate lived for a shorter time than patients who received only a placebo.
- Four other randomized controlled trials studied the effects of hydrazine sulfate on nutritional status and metabolism. The studies showed some benefit from hydrazine sulfate.
Have any side effects or risks been reported from hydrazine sulfate?
In general, the reported side effects of hydrazine sulfate treatment have been mild to moderate. Most side effects are reported to end when treatment with hydrazine sulfate is stopped. Some animal studies, however, suggest that hydrazine sulfate may be highly toxic (harmful) when combined with either alcohol or barbiturates (drugs with sedative and hypnotic effects).
Is hydrazine sulfate approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a cancer treatment in the United States?
The FDA has not approved hydrazine sulfate for use as a cancer treatment in the United States.
The FDA has approved the study of hydrazine sulfate in clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials can be found on the NCI website.
Hydrazine sulfate is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, which is regulated as a food, not a drug. More information about dietary supplements can be found in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health online fact sheet, Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.
- Loprinzi CL, Goldberg RM, Su JQ, et al.: Placebo-controlled trial of hydrazine sulfate in patients with newly diagnosed non-small-cell lung cancer. J Clin Oncol 12 (6): 1126-9, 1994. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Chlebowski RT, Bulcavage L, Grosvenor M, et al.: Hydrazine sulfate in cancer patients with weight loss. A placebo-controlled clinical experience. Cancer 59 (3): 406-10, 1987. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Tayek JA, Heber D, Chlebowski RT: Effect of hydrazine sulphate on whole-body protein breakdown measured by 14C-lysine metabolism in lung cancer patients. Lancet 2 (8553): 241-4, 1987. [PUBMED Abstract]
Changes To This Summary (07/16/2015)
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the use of hydrazine sulfate in the treatment of people with cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's website. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Hydrazine Sulfate. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/hydrazine-sulfate-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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General CAM Information
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—also referred to as integrative medicine—includes a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatments; it is often called alternative when it is used instead of conventional treatment. (Conventional treatments are those that are widely accepted and practiced by the mainstream medical community.) Depending on how they are used, some therapies can be considered either complementary or alternative. Complementary and alternative therapies are used in an effort to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms, or control or cure disease.
Unlike conventional treatments for cancer, complementary and alternative therapies are often not covered by insurance companies. Patients should check with their insurance provider to find out about coverage for complementary and alternative therapies.
Cancer patients considering complementary and alternative therapies should discuss this decision with their doctor, nurse, or pharmacist as they would any therapeutic approach, because some complementary and alternative therapies may interfere with their standard treatment or may be harmful when used with conventional treatment.
Evaluation of CAM Approaches
It is important that the same rigorous scientific evaluation used to assess conventional approaches be used to evaluate CAM therapies. The National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) are sponsoring a number of clinical trials (research studies) at medical centers to evaluate CAM therapies for cancer.
Conventional approaches to cancer treatment have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through a rigorous scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients. Less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods. Few CAM therapies have undergone rigorous evaluation. A small number of CAM therapies originally considered to be purely alternative approaches are finding a place in cancer treatment—not as cures, but as complementary therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example is acupuncture. According to a panel of experts at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) in November 1997, acupuncture has been found to be effective in the management of chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and in controlling pain associated with surgery. In contrast, some approaches, such as the use of laetrile, have been studied and found ineffective or potentially harmful.
The NCI Best Case Series Program which was started in 1991, is one way CAM approaches that are being used in practice are being investigated. The program is overseen by the NCI’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Health care professionals who offer alternative cancer therapies submit their patients’ medical records and related materials to OCCAM. OCCAM conducts a critical review of the materials and develops follow-up research strategies for approaches deemed to warrant NCI-initiated research.
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider About CAM
When considering complementary and alternative therapies, patients should ask their health care provider the following questions:
- What side effects can be expected?
- What are the risks associated with this therapy?
- Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
- What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
- Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
- Is this therapy part of a clinical trial?
- If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
- Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?
To Learn More About CAM
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) facilitates research and evaluation of complementary and alternative practices, and provides information about a variety of approaches to health professionals and the public.
- NCCIH Clearinghouse
- Post Office Box 7923 Gaithersburg, MD 20898–7923
- Telephone: 1-888-644-6226 (toll free)
- TTY (for deaf and hard of hearing callers): 1-866-464-3615
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://nccih.nih.gov
CAM on PubMed
NCCIH and the NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) jointly developed CAM on PubMed, a free and easy-to-use search tool for finding CAM-related journal citations. As a subset of the NLM's PubMed bibliographic database, CAM on PubMed features more than 230,000 references and abstracts for CAM-related articles from scientific journals. This database also provides links to the websites of over 1,800 journals, allowing users to view full-text articles. (A subscription or other fee may be required to access full-text articles.)
Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The NCI Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) coordinates the activities of the NCI in the area of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). OCCAM supports CAM cancer research and provides information about cancer-related CAM to health providers and the general public via the NCI website.
National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Information Service
U.S. residents may call the NCI Cancer Information Service toll free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates drugs and medical devices to ensure that they are safe and effective.
- Food and Drug Administration
- 10903 New Hampshire Avenue
- Silver Spring, MD 20993
- Telephone: 1-888-463-6332 (toll free)
- Website: http://www.fda.gov
Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces consumer protection laws. Publications available from the FTC include:
- Who Cares: Sources of Information About Health Care Products and Services
- Fraudulent Health Claims: Don’t Be Fooled
- Consumer Response Center
- Federal Trade Commission
- 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
- Washington, DC 20580
- Telephone: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) (toll free)
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- Website: http://www.ftc.gov