Written by Susan Sweeny Johnson, PhD, Biochem. Adding CoQ10 to a treatment protocol using interferon resulted in better tolerance of long-term treatment and a 13 times less likelihood of metastases than using interferon alone.

“The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 9,000 die each year from skin cancer. About 7,000 of these deaths are from melanoma; the other deaths are related to other types of skin cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from 1973 to 1992, the death rate for melanoma increased 48 percent in U.S. men. And in 1996, the CDC reported that the rate was continuing to rise, despite how easily the disease can be prevented or treated (if detected early).  One explanation for this trend is increased recreational exposure to the sun. (1)

If melanoma is caught early (stage O) when lesions are small and then removed, prognosis is excellent. If a melanoma enters Stage I or II before detection, the rate of metastasis (spreading to other sites) over the next 10 years is high. (2)  There are no treatments commonly in use for Stage I and II melanomas after surgical removal that significantly improve survival rates without interfering with quality of life. (3,4)

One treatment available is injection with the immunostimulator, interferon. (5) It is used predominantly in stage III and IV patients but not in stage I and II patients. It often produces flu-like symptoms that cause severe discomfort affecting the quality of life of the patient. Additionally, the benefits in early stage melanomas are not clear.  Interferon stimulates the immune system to recognize and destroy any leftover cancer cells but this requires large amounts of energy in the form of ATP. (6,7)  CoQ10 boosts ATP levels and is known to be lower than normal in melanoma patients. (8) Because of these observations, this group of researchers developed a study to see if adding CoQ10 to a treatment protocol using interferon would lead to better tolerance of long-term treatment and fewer metastases.

Thirty-two Stage I and II melanoma patients recruited for this study received interferon (IFN) (2 injections per day of 600,000 IU) plus 400mg per day of CoQ10 for 3 years after surgery, while forty-nine received only interferon. Patients were monitored for metastasis for an additional five years after treatment ended.

As expected, patients with stage II disease were about 14 times more likely to develop metastases than stage I patients (Odds Ratio (OR)=14.32 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.7090–120.0029)). However, taken together, both stage I and II patients treated with IFN+CoQ10 were about 13 times less likely to develop them than IFN patients (OR=0.078 (95% CI: 0.0093–0.6569)). Also, the addition of CoQ10 to the interferon therapy reduced the self-reported flu-like symptoms of the patients. Twenty-four patients experienced no or mild symptoms in the IFN plus CoQ10 group, while only 9 did in the IFN alone group,

This study was very small, but since the results were so encouraging, this group is actively recruiting melanoma patients for a larger study to improve the statistical strength of the data.

Skin diseases are more common than once thought, according to a 2005 government report, and cost Americans an estimated $36.6 billion annually. Among the most economically burdensome skin disorders are skin ulcers and wounds, melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, contact dermatitis and acne, with costs of $22.8 billion in 2004.

Source: “Recombinant interferon [alpha]-2b and coenzyme Q10 as a postsurgical adjuvant therapy for melanoma: a 3-year trial with recombinant interferon-[alpha] and 5-year follow-up.” Melanoma Res 17(3), June 2007, pp. 177-183. Posted August 25, 2008.

References:

  1. See the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute website.
  2. Jerant AF, Johnson JT, Sheridan CD, Caffrey TJ. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Am Fam Physician 2000; 62:357–368, 375–376, 381–382.
  3. Kirkwood JM, Ernstoff MS. Role of interferons in the therapy of melanoma. J Invest Dermatol 1990; 95:180S–184S.
  4. Barth A, Morton DL. The role of adjuvant therapy in melanoma management. Cancer 1995; 75(2 Suppl):726–734.
  5. Argarwala SS, Kirkwood JM. Update on adjuvant interferon therapy for high-risk melanoma. Oncology 2002; 16:1177–1187.
  6. Baron S, Tyring SK, Fleischmann WR Jr, Coppenhaver DH, Niesel DW, Klimpel GR, et al. The interferons: mechanism of action and clinical application. JAMA 1991; 266:1375–1383.
  7. Linge C, Gewert D, Rossmann C, Bishop JA, Crowe JS. Interferon system defects in human malignant melanoma. Cancer Res 1995; 55:4099–4104.
  8. Folkers K, Ostemborg A, Nylander M, Morita M, Mellstedt H. Activities of vitamin Q10 in animal models and serious deficiency in patients with cancer. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1997; 234:296–299.