Shark Cartilage is No Help
This is a report from Web MD about the value (or not) of shark cartilage in treating cancer. A recent study from the NCI indicates that the addition of shark cartilage did not improve survival for cancer patients. This is important both because of the specifics and because of the more general larger issues. The benefits of shark cartilage have been touted for many years. I think I first heard about it twenty years ago when a patient described a supplement she was taking to help her cancer treatment. There is widespread belief that anything natural is good for you, and that many natural/alternative/complementary therapies can be as valuable as our toxic chemotherapy drugs in treating cancer. Some years ago, the NCI opened a new branch of study called the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines) to being rigorous scientific exploration to these substances. The results, so far, have not been so encouraging. For example, the NCCAM's study re the value of St John's Wort found that it was no more helpful in relieving depression than a placebo.
Am I favorably inclined towards adding complementary therapies to standard cancer treatments? Yes, with reservations. I certainly respect the value of acupuncture, meditation, relaxation techniques, support groups, and some other "external to the body" treatments. I am wary of anything that you ingest and even more wary of anything that is expensive. Preying on the vulnerabilities and anxieties of cancer patients has become big business.
Anyway, here is a report about the shark cartilage study:
Shark Cartilage No Help for Cancer
From WebMD Health News
May 27, 2010 — Hopes that shark cartilage would prove to be a useful treatment for cancer were not borne out in one of the most rigorously designed and executed studies of an alternative therapy ever conducted.
Adding a drug derived from shark cartilage to standard cancer treatments did not improve survival among patients with late-stage lung cancer in the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Shark cartilage has been touted as a potential alternative or complementary cancer treatment for several decades. Dozens of shark cartilage products are sold as dietary supplements, but almost none have been studied in humans.
Testing the Usefulness of Shark Cartilage
The trial examined a carefully formulated and regulated liquid shark cartilage product developed as a drug, rather than one of the commercially available, but unregulated, supplements. Researchers from multiple academic and community cancer centers in the U.S. and Canada enrolled almost 400 patients with inoperable non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in the study. Half received standard chemotherapy and radiation, and half received standard treatment and the shark cartilage drug, known as AE-941.
No difference was seen in overall survival, progression-free survival, time-to-disease progression, and tumor response rates between the two groups.
Patients who got the shark cartilage treatment lived for an average of 14.4 months, which was a month less than the average survival of patients who did not take shark cartilage.
The study was published online today and it will appear in the June 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "It is clear from these findings that this pharmaceutical-grade shark cartilage extract is not an effective treatment for this cancer," study researcher Charles Lu, MD, tells WebMD.
Cancer is fueled by the growth of new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis. Cartilage contains no blood vessels and has been shown in some lab studies to slow blood vessel growth. The idea that cartilage may stop or slow the growth of cancer was first proposed in the 1950s by a New York surgeon who also claimed that powdered cow cartilage could speed surgical wound healing.
The 1992 publication of the book Sharks Don't Get Cancer, by nutrition researcher William Lane, PhD, and Lane's appearance on the news magazine show 60 Minutes the next year, led to the wide use of cartilage supplements among cancer patients.
Jeffrey White, MD, director of the NCI's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine, tells WebMD that shark cartilage supplements remain a popular alternative or complementary treatment among cancer patients.
Even though the shark cartilage study proved disappointing, White says other alternative treatments still show promise for the treatment of cancer. Among them, he says, are green tea extract and curcumin, which is derived from the spice turmeric.
"Just as with shark cartilage, there are many challenges involved in studying these treatments," he says. "But I believe these challenges can be met."