Shark cartilage was once widely promoted as an anti-cancer agent and is still via the Internet for that purpose, based on the mistaken belief that sharks do not get cancer. The possibility that the cartilage could be beneficial was supported by early studies which suggested that it has anti-angiogenic properties -- that is, it prevents the growth of blood vessels that nourish tumors. But the first clinical trial of a shark cartilage product shows that it has no value at all.
Dr. Charles Lu of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and his colleagues enrolled 379 patients with non-small cell lung cancer that could not be treated surgically. All received standard radiation and chemotherapy. In addition, half received a shark cartilage extract and half received a placebo. The extract, called AE-941 or Neovastat, was developed by pharmaceutical company Aeterna Zentaris of Quebec. Participants ingested 4-ounce portions twice a day, both during chemotherapy and radiation treatment and afterward.
The researchers reported Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that they observed no significant difference between the two treatment groups. The placebo group had a median survival of 15.6 months, while the Neovastat group had a median survival of 14.4 months. The placebo group had a median time to progression of 10.7 months, compared with 11.3 months for the treatment group. There was also no difference in progression-free survival between the two groups.
"Clearly, these results demonstrate that AE-941 is not an effective therapeutic agent for lung cancer," Lu said in a statement. "So too these findings have to cast major skepticism on shark cartilage products that are sold for profit and have no data to support their efficacy as cancer-fighting agents."
Lung cancer strikes an estimated 219,440 Americans each year, killing 159,390. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common form of the disease, accounting for about 80% of cases.
The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and Aeterna Zentaris, which has stopped clinical development of the product.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II