Shark Cartilage Deemed Ineffective for Cancer Treatment
Recently, The New York Times, Reuters Health, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Boston Globe reported that powdered shark cartilage does not demonstrate anti-tumor properties and is not an effective treatment for patients with advanced cancer.
The reports were based on a study published in the November edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology that details the results of shark cartilage research. The author of the study, Dr. Denis Miller, has summarized the results of this study simply, stating, "It doesn't work."
The article, entitled "Phase I/II Trial of the Safety and Efficacy of Shark Cartilage in the Treatment of Advanced Cancer", involved the treatment of 60 cancer patients. The types of cancer exhibited by these patients included breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, brain, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. All of the patients had been diagnosed and undergone some treatment prior to the study.
In the course of the three-month study, 10 of the patients' tumors temporarily stopped growing for periods of time ranging from 3 to 10 months, reported the Los Angeles Times. However, these results are not indicative of radical change. As Dr. Miller clearly specified in his discussion of the study, this change in rate of growth is almost indistinguishable from the normal growth patterns of advanced cancer. Dr. Miller told the Los Angeles Times that this result would be expected in any group of advanced cancer patients, even those that had received no treatment.
The use of dietary supplements and other products considered alternative treatments has increased significantly since Congress exempted these products from regulation by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994. The growth of interest in alternative medical treatment was recently cited by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which reported that visits to alternative practitioners are up 47% since 1990.
Today, many of these alternative products are being researched and tested for safety and efficacy by independent medical researchers. In the absence of FDA research guidelines however, much of the research conducted on alternative treatments is not as rigorous as research for other cancer treatments. The study conducted by Dr. Miller and colleagues at the Cancer Treatment Research Foundation in Arlington Heights, Illinois is an exception. This study is one example of an independent research effort conducted with rigorous and scientific testing standards similar to those of the FDA.
The results of these studies offer important information on herbs, therapies, and dietary supplements considered "alternative medicine." As for the potential use of shark cartilage in cancer treatment, it does not appear likely. As Dr. Miller commented to Reuters Health, "Based on the results of this study, shark cartilage therapy with this dose schedule and route of administration in breast, colon, and lung cancer showed no anticancer activity."
Patricia A. Ganz, MD
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health
Los Angeles, CA
For more information on the topic, the following articles are available from the Journal of Clinical Oncology website:
Phase I/II Trial of the Safety and Efficacy of Shark Cartilage in the Treatment of Advanced Cancer
The following policy statement is available from ASCO OnLine:
The Physician and Unorthodox Cancer Therapies
The following article is available from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute website:
Practitioners Seek Common Ground in Unconventional Forum
The following articles are available from The New England Journal of Medicine website:
The Alternative Medicine Handbook: The Complete Reference Guide to Alternative and Complementary Therapies (Book Review)
Alternative Medicine -- The Risks of Untested and Unregulated Remedies
For additional information, the November 11, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is devoted to the topic of alternative medicine. More information on this issue of JAMA is available at their website: