Written by Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated February 28, 2017

Shark cartilage

What is shark cartilage?

Scientific name / brand name / common name

The commonly used name for the preparation is shark cartilage. Commercial products are sold as Cartilate, Cartilade, BeneFin, AE-941, U-995, Neovastat, Better Shark MC and numerous other brand names.

Ingredients

Cartilage is part of the skeletal system composed of elastic, translucent tissue. Sharks’ skeletal structure is not made of bones but of cartilage. Shark cartilage is obtained from the spiny dogfish shark Squalus acanthias and the hammered shark Sphyrna lewini and is available in either capsule or powder form. Shark cartilage products contain glycoproteins, such as phyrastitin 1 and 2.

Application and dosage

Administration is usually either orally in capsule form or rectally by enemas of shark cartilage mixed with sterile water or by subcutaneous injection but is not normally applied intravenously. From clinical studies we know that for refractory metastatic renal cell carcinoma, a specific water-soluble shark cartilage extract, AE-941 (Neovastat), 60 to 240 mL per day has been used.1,2 For the treatment of solid tumors, 30 to 240 mL daily has been used.3 For cutaneous Kaposi’s Sarcoma, shark cartilage 3,750 to 4,500 mg per day has been used.4 Commercial products typically suggest doses ranging from 500 mg to 4.5g, given in two to six divided doses daily.5

History / providers

In 1963 it was discovered that tumour growth was partly dependant upon angiogenesis.6 William Lane published a book in 1992 entitled Sharks Don’t Get Cancer.7 The claim is incorrect – sharks can get cancer of their cartilage.8,9 Numerous manufacturers offer commercial preparations available as food supplements, sold without restriction, through various outlets. In 1995, over 40 brands were on the market.

In 2000 Lane was prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission from claiming that “BeneFin or any other shark cartilage product prevents, treats or cures cancer”, until he can provide substantial evidence to support this claim. Since shark cartilage has been promoted as a cancer cure, there has been a measurable decline in shark populations.

Claims of efficacy

It is claimed that a protein in shark cartilage can shrink tumour size, slow or stop the growth of cancerous cells and help reverse bone disease such as osteoporosis.7,10 Providers claim that shark cartilage is effective in cancer because of anti-angiogenic properties. Shark cartilage is also claimed to have antitumor, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic actions, although these putative actions are so far poorly supported by credible clinical research.

Mechanisms of action / alleged indication

Angiogenesis enables new blood vessels and, consequently, tumours to grow. All cartilage, including human, contains anti-angiogenic factors. When shark cartilage is taken orally, they are being digested rather than absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore no effects after oral administration should be expected.

Some basic research studies have suggested direct toxicity against tumour cells. The inhibition of tumour angiogenesis has been relatively well documented in in-vitro studies One study, for instance, found that tamoxifen has significant anti-angiogenic activity that can be potentiated by shark cartilage.32 Another laboratory study suggested that the development of papillary and solid tumours in mice can be significantly delayed.25

Shark cartilage contains inhibitors of tumour angiogenesis 11-13,34 and immune modulators 14 and may have cytotoxic activity in vitro.35 The polypeptides identified included acidic and basic fibroblast growth factor, angiogenin and transforming growth factors alpha and beta.15 Many of the formulations of commercially available shark cartilage contain little or no anti-angiogenic activity. Furthermore, not all cancers are affected by anti-angiogenic factors. Reliable dose-response data and bioavailability studies are not available.

Prevalence of use

The popularity of shark cartilage seems to have peaked between 1990 and 2000 but more recent data suggest it is still commonly used by cancer patients.16 Reliable prevalence data are not available. In a survey including 100 patients with various types of cancer shark cartilage was among the most commonly used therapies.17 In an earlier survey including 143 advanced cancer patients, 10.7% of respondents were consuming preparations of shark cartilage.18 More recent survey data imply that 7% of lymphoma survivors use shark cartilage preparations.36 An article in a non-peer-reviewed magazine reports that shark cartilage is a $5 billion-a-year business, with pills and powders sold in health food shops to more than 25.000 people every year.19

Legal issues

Shark cartilage products are marketed as dietary supplements and therefore are not submitted to medicines regulation. Pre-market evaluation and approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are not required for dietary supplements. The FDA has not approved of the use of cartilage as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition. Providers of dietary supplements are not legally permitted to make any claims on the packages of their products for preventing or curing any disease. In practice, such claims are, however, often made via books, websites etc.

Costs and expenditures

A typical course of shark cartilage costs approximately 500 Euros.

Citation Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Shark cartilage [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Shark-cartilage. February 28, 2017.

References

  1. Neovastat clinical trial abstracts. Presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 92nd annual meeting. March 27, 2001.
  2. Batist G, Patenaude F, Champagne P, et al. Neovastat (AE-941) in refractory renal cell carcinoma patients: report of a phase II trial with two dose levels. Ann Oncol 2002;13:1259-63.
  3. Sauder DN, Dekoven J, Champagne P, et al. Neovastat (AE-941), an inhibitor of angiogenesis: Randomized phase I/II clinical trial results in patients with plaque psoriasis. J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;47:535-41.
  4. Hillman JD, Peng AT, Gilliam AC, Remick SC. Treatment of Kaposi Sarcoma with oral administration of shark cartilage in a Human Herpes virus 8-seropositive, Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Seronegative homosexual man. Arch Dermatol 2001;137:1149-52.
  5. Fetrow CW, Avila JR. Professional's Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines. 1st ed. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corp., 1999.
  6. Folkman J, Long DM, Becker FF. Growth and metastasis of tumour organ culture. Cancer 1963;16:453-67.
  7. Lane IW. Comac L. Sharks don’t get cancer. How shark cartilage can save your life. New Your: Avery, 1992.
  8. Wellings SR. Neoplasia and primate vertebrate phylogeny: a review. Natl Cancer Inst Monograph 1969;31:59-128.
  9. Prieur DJ, Fenstermaher JD, Guarino AM. A choroids plexus papilloma in Elasmobranchs. J Natl Cancer Inst 1976;56:1207-9.
  10. Cassileth BR Shark and bovine cartilage therapies. In: Cassileth BR, ed.: The Alternative Medicine Handbook: The Complete Reference Guide to Alternative and Complementary Therapies. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 1998, pp 197-200.
  11. Prudden J. The clinical acceleration of healing with a cartilage preparation: a controlled study. JAMA 1965;192:252.
  12. Prudden JF, Balassa LL The biological activity of bovine cartilage preparations. Clinical demonstration of their potent anti-inflammatory capacity with supplementary notes on certain relevant fundamental supportive studies. Semin Arthritis Rheum 1974;3: 287-321.
  13. Lee A, Langer R Shark cartilage contains inhibitors of tumor angiogenesis. Science 1983;221:1185-7.
  14. Bargahi A, Rabbani-Chadegani A, Bargahi A et al. Angiogenic inhibitor protein fractions derived from shark cartilage. Biosci Rep 2008;28:15-21.
  15. Folkman J, Klagsburn M. Angiogenic factors. Science 1987;235:442-7.
  16. Hyodo I, Amano N, Eguchi K et al. Nationwide survey on complementary and alternative medicine in cancer patients in Japan. J Clin Oncol 2005;23:2645-54.
  17. Bernstein BJ, Grasso T. Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer patients. Oncology 2001;15:1267-72, 1274-5.
  18. Oneschuk D, Fennell L, Hanson J, Bruera E. The use of complementary medications by cancer patients attending an outpatient pain and symptom clinic. Journal of Palliative Care 1998;14:21-6.
  19. Dold C. Shark therapy. Discover 1996;4:51-7.
  20. Lu C, Lee JJ, Komaki R, Herbst RS, Feng L, Evans WK et al. Chemoradiotherapy with or without AE-941 in stage III non-small cell lung cancer: a randomized phase III trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2010; 102(12):859-865.
  21. Batist G, Champagne P, Hariton C, et al. Dose-survival relationship in a phase II study of Neovastat in refractory renal cell carcinoma patients. [Abstract] Proceedings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2002;21:A-1907.
  22. Loprinzi CL, Levitt R, Barton DL, Sloan JA, Atherton PJ, Smith DJ, Dakhil SR, Moore DF Jr, Krook JE, Rowland KM Jr, Mazurczak MA, Berg AR, Kim GP; North Central Cancer Treatment Group. Evaluation of shark cartilage in patients with advanced cancer – a north central cancer treatments group trial . Cancer 2005;104:176-82.
  23. Berbari P, Thibodeau A, Germanin L, Saint-Cyr M, Gaudreau P, Elkhouri S, Dupont E, Garrel DR, Elkouri S. Antiangiogenic effects of the oral administration of liquid cartilage extracts in humans. J Surg Res 1999;87:108-13.
  24. Mathews J. Media feeds frenzy over shark cartilage as a cancer treatment. J Natl Cancer Inst 1993;85:1190-1191.
  25. Barber R, Delahunt B, Grebe SKG, Davis PF, Thornton A, Slim GC. Oral shark cartilage does not abolish carcinogenesis but delays tumor progression in a murine model. Anticancer Research 2001;21:1065-70.
  26. Yagita A. Role of angiogenesis inhibitor in novel immunotherapy for cancer (NITC). BiotherapyJapan 2000;14:973-82.
  27. Maruyama S, Yagita A, Sukegawa Y, Daido A, Takeuchi S. Effect of a new immunotherapy for advanced colorectal cancer. BiotherapyJapan 2000;14:460-3.
  28. Leitner SP, Rothkopf MM, Haverstick L, et al. Two phase II studies of oral dry shark cartilage powder (SCP) with either metastatic breast or prostate cancer refractory to standard treatment. [Abstract] Proceedings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 1998;17:A-240.
  29. Rosenbluth RJ, Jennis AA, Cantwell S, et al. Oral shark cartilage in the treatment of patients with advanced primary brain tumors. [Abstract] Proceedings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 1999;18:A-554.
  30. Champagne P, Aeterna Laboratories, Incorporated Phase II Study of AE-941 (Neovastat) in Patients With Early Relapse or Refractory Multiple Myeloma, AETERNA-AE-MM-00-02, Clinical trial, Closed.
  31. Miller DR. Phase I/II trial of the safety and efficacy of shark cartilage in the treatment of advanced cancer. J Clin Oncol 1998;16:3649-3655.
  32. McGuire TR et al. Tamoxifen and shark cartilage: potential anti-angiogenic combination (Abstract from American College of Clinical Pharmacy Annual Meeting St. Louis, 1994). Pharmacotherapy 1994;14:362.
  33. Ashar B, Vargo E. Shark cartilage-induced hepatitis. Ann Intern Med 1996;125:780-781.
  34. Simard B, Bouamrani A, Jourdes P, Pernod G, Dimitriadou V, Berger F et al. Induction of the fibrinolytic system by cartilage extract mediates its antiangiogenic effect in mouse glioma. Microvascular Research 2011; 82(1):6-17.
  35. Bargahi A, Hassan ZM, Rabbani A, Langroudi L, Noori SH, Safari E et al. Effect of shark cartilage derived protein on the NK cells activity. Immunopharmacology & Immunotoxicology 2011; 33(3):403-409.
  36. Habermann TM, Thompson CA, LaPlant BR, Bauer BA, Janney CA, Clark MM et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among long-term lymphoma survivors: a pilot study. American Journal of Hematology 2009; 84(12):795-798.