Shark Cartilage No Longer Considered Therapeutic Agent

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shark cartilage extractThe occurrence of cancer in sharks may be rare, but contrary to long-held beliefs, shark cartilage extract provides no therapeutic benefits for non-small cell lung cancer patients.

A recent study indicated that lung cancer patients who took shark cartilage extract (Neovastat or AE-941) in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation treatments gained no additional survival benefits.

The results of this study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and presented at the 43rd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

Studying the effects of shark cartilage

The absence of blood vessels in cartilage has long contributed to the idea that it may contain properties that stop angiogenesis, the stimulation of blood vessel growth. If a tumor is present and angiogenesis is blocked, there are no blood vessels to feed the tumor, causing it to stop growing.

For years, researchers believed that sharks, fish with a cartilaginous skeleton, rarely develop cancer due to the nature and biological properties of cartilage. Early Phase I and II studies in lung and renal cancer patients showed that high doses of extract suggested some benefits. A larger Phase III study proved otherwise.

In this international trial, 379 patients with newly diagnosed, untreated stage III non-small cell lung cancer, including 60 participants from MD Anderson, received standard chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In addition, some patients drank four ounces of shark cartilage extract twice daily, while others received a placebo.

Results negate previous beliefs
With a median follow-up of 3.7 years, researchers did not find a statistical difference in survival between patients who received the cartilage extract, 14.4 months, and those who took the placebo, 15.6 months.

Charles Lu, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson's Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, says the results indicate that shark cartilage extract is not an effective therapeutic agent for lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in men and women.

"We have absolutely no data showing improvements in survival, tumor shrinkage and/or clinical benefits to patients," Lu says. "Now, when patients ask their oncologists about shark cartilage, physicians can point to this large NCI-sponsored Phase III trial and tell patients that, at this point, the only studies that have been done with cartilage-derived products have been negative."

Adapted by Lana Maciel from an MD Anderson news release
Shark Cartilage show no benefit as a therapeutic agent for lung cancer

MD Anderson resources:

Lung Cancer

Department of Thoracic Head and Neck Medical Oncology

Additional resources:

Questions and Answers About Cartilage (National Cancer Institute)

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