Sharks have been swimming our oceans for hundreds of millions of years. However, over the last several decades we have witnessed populations of sharks plummet worldwide. The most obvious and publicized reason has been shark finning. This practice of butchering sharks for their fins is, usually while they are still alive, is often illegal. The fins are dried and sold as an ingredient in shark fin soup, considered a delicacy in China. However, there is another, often ignored issue contributing to the decline of shark numbers: the use of shark cartilage as a cure for cancer. We look at the truth behind sharks and cancer. Do they really have anything in common?
Starting in the 1970’s, animal cartilage was being researched for its potential to inhibit the growth of blood vessels thus possibly preventing the growth of cancerous tumors. Since sharks’ skeletons are composed entirely of cartilage it was considered a perfect source for this medical application.
Shoddy Science and Lots of Money to Make
In the early 90’s, Dr. I William Lane took us one giant step in the wrong direction by concluding, after shoddy “clinical trials” in Mexico, that taking shark cartilage orally was a treatment for cancer. He came to this startling conclusion by making the unproven claim that sharks did not get cancer and consequently some secret ingredient in their cartilage must prevent cancer.
In 1992 Lane published the best-selling book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer: How Shark Cartilage Could Save Your Life. Four years later he followed with Sharks Still Don’t Get Cancer. To capitalize on his newly acquired fame Lane started his own company Lane Labs to hunt sharks and make pills.
Lane’s success was quickly emulated by other companies that in 1995 alone sold over $30 million in shark cartilage products.
Today it is estimated that in US waters approximately 200,000 sharks are killed every month to feed the demands of the anti-cancer, shark cartilage market. This onslaught has brought numerous species of sharks to the brink of extinction.
All for a Pill that Doesn’t Work
Three more recent and infinitely more reliable FDA-approved studies have demonstrated that shark cartilage does not cure or treat cancer. To halt the unfounded and disproven claims of the pill pushers, the Federal Trade Commission, in 2000, took the dramatic step of fining Dr. Lane $1 million and banning him from claiming that his products could prevent cancer in any way.
“Sharks get cancer,” said David Shiffman a shark researcher at the University of Miami. “Even if they didn’t get cancer, eating shark products won’t cure cancer any more than me eating Michael Jordan would make me better at basketball.”
The Myth of Sharks Not Getting Cancer Lives on
And the sale of anti-cancer shark cartilage products continues, exacerbating two very serious issues. People that have cancer and treat it with shark cartilage products may not be getting the real treatment that they need to defeat the disease. Secondly, sharks are still getting killed in mass all because of a debunked myth.
Sharks Do Get Cancer
Scientists have known for over a hundred years that more than twenty species of shark suffer from cancer, however the myth lives on, perpetuated by those that sell pills.
Just do a search on Amazon to uncover the numerous books that are available touting the myth of the connection between sharks and cancer. While on Amazon you will also see the amazing variety of shark cartilage products for sale, now sold as “diet supplements” or “joint remedies.”
This fascinating article by Christie Wilcox, first appeared in Scientific American in 2011 but we thought that it was still a very important message to pass onto you. For an even more graphic look at this issue see: Sharks Do Get Cancer: Tumor Found in Great White from Live Science, Dec. 2013.
Maybe the bottom line is that sharks like humans do get cancer. Both species are at the top of the food chain, but both species are vulnerable. What we are seeing happen to shark populations may be a lesson humans need to take to heart.
by Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
See Related Blue Ocean Posts on Shark Preservation:
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