Chondroitin and melanoma: How worried should you be?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling

Chondroitin sulfate is among the most popular supplements in the world. It’s often taken in combination with glucosamine for joint disease — some take it for prevention, others to treat pain.

And yet, evidence that it actually works at all is limited at best. One review of the evidence suggested that of the few studies of chondroitin that were positive, nearly all were funded by makers of the supplement. Despite this, millions of people take it, many of my patients swear by it, and the lack of evidence doesn’t seem to be much of a concern to them. A frequent comment I hear is: “Well, I’m not sure if it’s doing much but it can’t hurt, right?” A new study suggests that maybe it can.

Can chondroitin increase melanoma risk?

Researchers publishing in the medical journal Molecular Cell are raising concerns that chondroitin sulfate may encourage the development or recurrence of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. Here’s what they found:

  • The growth of human melanoma cells with a particular mutation (called V600E) that had been grafted onto the skin of mice was promoted when the mice consumed chondroitin sulfate. About half of human melanomas contain this mutation.
  • Among mice fed chondroitin sulfate, these melanoma tumors were more resistant to an antitumor drug, vemurafenib, than those without the mutation.

Although this research did not actually study people with melanoma, the study authors speculate that for people with precancerous skin growths containing the V600E mutation, taking chondroitin might be a bad idea because it could speed up tumor growth. And if a person had melanoma in the past, taking chondroitin might make recurrence more likely.

The research linking chondroitin and melanoma is preliminary

It’s important to point out that this is preliminary research. Although the tumor cells studied came from humans, a link between chondroitin sulfate use and melanoma in humans has not yet been established. It’s possible that these results aren’t relevant to actual people — for example, the doses or metabolism of chondroitin sulfate may be so different in humans (vs. mice) that these results do not apply to humans. It is not rare that studies in animals do not translate directly to people.

Why does this matter?

Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer, but unlike many other skin cancers (such as basal cell cancers), simply removing the cancer doesn’t always cure it. It can spread quickly even years after apparent “cure.” Estimates are that more than 90,000 people learn they have melanoma each year, and more than 9,000 people die of the disease annually.

Here’s my take: this research is quite preliminary, and might turn out to have little relevance to human disease. But if chondroitin sulfate may promote melanoma growth — and it’s not clear that this supplement is particularly helpful anyway — I’d advise against its use, at least until we know more.


  1. Pam

    I have not had melanoma but do take glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate every day and have for years. I have osteoarthritis and I find that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin takes away any problems with my knees. I saw a study years ago that showed that one of the two takes down inflammation and the other grows new cartilage between my bones

    I don’t take ibuprofen or acetaminophen at all. I find the combo of glucosamine and chondroitin is all I need. Now if the recommendation is not to take chondroitin (and is probably wise for me since two of my children have had melanomas, luckily removed) what natural herbs, or foods, or ? would be a good substitute?

  2. Phyllis Robinson

    I don’t know about melanoma, but I do know chondroitin is excellent for knee and joint pain. In fact, I take these supplements every day.

  3. Dan White

    as always timely info

  4. Robyn Seeney

    Thank you for the research concerning Glucosamine Chondrotin and risk of recurring Melenoma. Supplements Supplements that’s all I hear anymore about and are they good for you or what is good for you.? I will not be taking anymore Chondrrotin as I had Melenoma on my face 7 years ago and Squamous cell since then.
    I admit i have taken supplements with the assurance from the bottle it would not hurt me, although it was not FDA approved. So, I began thinking, yes take a vitamin every other day or so, but what did our Ancestors do.? They had many natural cures, etc but none of these supplements.
    It also seems that everyone is using supplements to market and make money. I know my
    Body better then anyone, and everyone else should also. So here is what I say! If i consult with an individual knowledgeable in supplements or Nutrition or all these natural oils everyone is chatting about, them take them., but my point is this , after 3 months do i feel better.? If not, stop paying for something that is not helping me .!!! It’s not complicated, a no Brainer…why would anyone want to continue anything that not only cost them a hefty paycheck, but not one Day have they felt better because of it. Thank you again for your research, I have just dumped all the Chondrotin etc I had! I would not have stopped them otherwise as my joint pain was better, I can find some other way for my joint pain. If my Melenoma reoccurred because of this , it would be traumatic.

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