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Lung Cancer Health Center

Study: Shark Cartilage No Help for Cancer

Drug Derived From Shark Cartilage Did Not Extend Lives of Lung Cancer Patients
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 26, 2010 -- Hopes that shark cartilage would prove to be a useful treatment for cancer were not borne out in one of the most rigorously designed and executed studies of an alternative therapy ever conducted.

Adding a drug derived from shark cartilage to standard cancer treatments did not improve survival among patients with late-stage lung cancer in the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

Shark cartilage has been touted as a potential alternative or complementary cancer treatment for several decades. Dozens of shark cartilage products are sold as dietary supplements, but almost none have been studied in humans.

Testing the Usefulness of Shark Cartilage

The trial examined a carefully formulated and regulated liquid shark cartilage product developed as a drug, rather than one of the commercially available, but unregulated, supplements.

Researchers from multiple academic and community cancer centers in the U.S. and Canada enrolled almost 400 patients with inoperable non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in the study.

Half received standard chemotherapy and radiation, and half received standard treatment and the shark cartilage drug, known as AE-941.

No difference was seen in overall survival, progression-free survival, time-to-disease progression, and tumor response rates between the two groups.

Patients who got the shark cartilage treatment lived for an average of 14.4 months, which was a month less than the average survival of patients who did not take shark cartilage.

The study was published online today and it will appear in the June 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"It is clear from these findings that this pharmaceutical-grade shark cartilage extract is not an effective treatment for this cancer," study researcher Charles Lu, MD, tells WebMD.

Shark Cartilage Still Widely Used

Cancer is fueled by the growth of new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis. Cartilage contains no blood vessels and has been shown in some lab studies to slow blood vessel growth.

The idea that cartilage may stop or slow the growth of cancer was first proposed in the 1950s by a New York surgeon who also claimed that powdered cow cartilage could speed surgical wound healing.

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