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Cancer Patient's Misled Hope May Have Led to His Death

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"People tend to place a lot of store in natural remedies, but something that is natural is not necessarily safe," he tells WebMD. "People should be getting cared for by a trained medical expert rather than relying upon pitches from advertisers or clerks in health food stores."

"Alternative therapies are not necessarily safer than conventional therapies and should be administered with medical supervision," says Martin Black, MD, a professor of medicine and pharmacology and the head of the Liver Unit at Temple University in Hospital in Philadelphia. Black, along with colleague Hamid Hussain, MD, penned an editorial accompanying the new report.

Calling the report "a timely warning," Black and Hussain write that "there seems to be little justification for the drug's easy availability and unsupervised use."

The use of this compound for cancer is "controversial. It may have helped a small number of patients, but the clinical trials have been unimpressive," he tells WebMD.

"Patients clearly should use the Internet to get better informed and they need to discuss the information that they get with a competent medical professional," Black says.

Even proponents of the use of hydrazine sulfate to treat cancer contend that it should never be used as a sole treatment or without the supervision of a health care professional.

That said, Robert Sorge, ND, a naturopathic doctor at the Abunda Life Medical Nutrition Testing Clinic in Asbury Park, N.J., says it's "highly unlikely" that the supplements were responsible for any patients death.

While hydrazine sulfate is not proven to be a cancer remedy, it has always been helpful at treating people with cancer-related weight and muscle loss, Sorge tells WebMD.

"About two-thirds of people who die from cancer" die from such weight loss, he says. "If we keep it in that realm, we are in good order," he says. Hydrazine sulfate may prevent these complications by somehow inhibiting a process that results in the loss of proteins and their building blocks, amino acids, among cancer patients.

"We don't use it by itself, it is combined with other orthodox or other natural therapies. And we don't prescribe it over the phone," Sorge says.

When considering complementary and alternative therapies, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests asking your health care provider the following questions:

  • What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
  • What are the risks associated with this therapy?
  • Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What side effects can be expected?

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