Shark Cartilage

Author: James Metz, MD
Content Contributor: Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Reviewed: November 01, 2001

Shark cartilage has gained increased popularity as an unconventional cancer treatment and in prevention of cancer. Shark cartilage was initially promoted by William Lane, Ph.D. in his book "Sharks Don't Get Cancer" and the follow-up book, "Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer." Unfortunately, sharks do get cancer. They develop melanoma, brain tumors, cancer of the blood system and even cancer in the cartilage.

Shark cartilage is purported to contain angiogenesis inhibitors, which prevent the formation of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. A modest anti-angiogenic effect has been seen in test tubes, but not in humans at this point. Shark cartilage is supplied in powder and capsule forms. It is taken orally and sometimes as an enema.

The news program 60 Minutes gave shark cartilage a huge boost in the 90's. The program reported a Cuban study of 29 patients with"terminal" cancer who were placed on shark cartilage. Most patients "felt better" several weeks after starting the shark cartilage. "Feeling better" is not a reliable endpoint in a scientific study. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) performed a review of the study and felt the data was "incomplete and unimpressive." 60 Minutes subsequently refused to broadcast the findings of the NCI.

A small study on shark cartilage was reported at the American Society for Clinical Oncology in 1997. Patients with advanced cancer were given sharkcartilage for 12 weeks. Of the 58 patients treated, there was not one complete response or partial response to shark cartilage. Only 2 patients had significant improvement in quality of life. There are currently some ongoing studies of shark cartilage at a number of institutions, but no positive trials have been published in the scientific literature.

Shark cartilage is relatively expensive. If it is taken as described by William Lane, the 16 week program cost is approximately $3000. There are discount suppliers, but beware of utilizing some sources. Some producers do not supply pure shark cartilage and there may be additives and fillers.

There are some cautions for the cancer patient regarding shark cartilage:

  • Children and pregnant women should not take shark cartilage because if the cartilage does work as an inhibitor of blood vessels, it couldadversely affect growing children and the growing fetus
  • Those who have had recent surgery should not take shark cartilage because it can theoretically impair healing
  • Avoid using shark cartilage enemas if you are neutropenic (have a low white blood cell count). You can induce a life threatening infection.
  • Some shark cartilage may contain additives, fillers, and contaminants
  • Shark cartilage can cause diarrhea, which can affect the patients ability to tolerate conventional cancer treatments