One of the things that really gets to me is con artists who try to dupe innocent people by concocting some obscenely stupid story to fool people into spending money on silly (or worse, sometimes harmful) products or services. For some reason, the marine world seems to attract more than its fair share of these shysters.
One of the perpetual scams has been the notion that since sharks don't get cancer, then ingesting shark cartilage will ward off cancer and/ or save you if you already have cancer. "Health food" stores around the world peddle the stuff, with helpful, but ignorant, sales people touting the magical healing properties of shark cartilage supplements. (See article I wrote earlier about this.)
Ok, first...sharks do get cancer. In only one sample reference, researchers at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington DC reported finding more than 40 cancerous and benign tumours in sharks, including three chondromas (tumors in cartilage). This was in the year 2000, so it's not like this is a new revelation.
So the oft-repeated statment that "Sharks don't get cancer" just ain't true, however nice it sounds.
Next, there have been controlled studies done in the past suggesting that shark cartilage isn't effective in preventing tumor growth. For instance, a 1998 clinical trial reported in the Vol. 16, No. 11 of the Journal of Clinical Oncology stated that shark cartilage has no efficacy against cancer in humans.
And now, results of a study involving a shark-cartilage extract called Neovastat (developed by a biopharmaceutical company named Aeterna Zentaris) presented at the recent 43rd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) show that shark cartilage is totally ineffective as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (which apparently accounts for about 80% of lung cancer cases). The six-year, randomised Phase III clinical trial was supported by the National Cancer Institute in the US and Aeterna Zentaris.
To over-simplify...there was no difference in survival rate between patients given Neovastat and those given a placebo. In other words, the patients all succumbed to cancer at the same pace.
Aeterna Zentaris has ceased further work on Neovastat. A wise decision.
But even with crystal-clear evidence to the contrary, the sharks-don't-get-cancer-and-shark-cartilage-cures-cancer myth will surely live on, and I'll keep getting accosted by ill-informed, well-meaning sales people in health food stores, who will persist in trying to educate me on the "facts" about shark cartilage and cancer.