Shark cartilage no help against cancer

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Despite the fact that sharks do not tend to get cancer, it turns out that their cartilage does not contain any magical cancer-fighting agent that could help patients battling the disease.

That’s the conclusion of the latest research from a government-funded study on the subject. Reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center describe the first study to scientifically evaluate the benefits of shark cartilage in controlling tumors in 379 patients with advanced non small cell lung cancer. After nearly four years, patients taking shark cartilage in a liquid form twice day showed no better survival from their cancer than those swallowing a placebo — on average, the shark cartilage group lived 14.4 months after treatment began, while the control group lived 15.6 months. All patients were given standard chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Scientists studied the extract because animal studies suggested that shark cartilage may inhibit the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors and help them to grow. But even the specially formulated version of the cartilage, which is not available to the public and was made by the company Aeterna Zentaris, failed to produce a benefit. It’s not clear whether shark cartilage could have an effect on inhibiting the growth of cancers other than those in the lung, but cancer experts believe that’s unlikely, since the mechanism involved would be the same.

The study is only the latest in a series of investigations supported by the National Institutes of Health in its effort to put some scientific bite behind beneficial claims of alternative therapies such as shark cartilage extracts. The growing popularity of such approaches makes such a studies worthwhile, since an objective evaluation of how much impact these strategies can actually have on diseases such as cancer, and, in some cases, how much harm, can save patients significant pain and suffering as well as money. While this study did not uncover any significant damage to patients taking the shark cartilage, it proved that the extracts didn’t really do much to help patients either.