X-Message-Number: 13487
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 13:33:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: Cancer Myth

Research: Sharks Do Get Cancer

     SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Actually, sharks do get cancer. The discovery
     challenges a small industry based on the belief that shark
     cartilage contains some cancer-fighting substance.

     Dozens of brands of shark cartilage supplements are sold in
     drugstores, promoted as treatments for cancer, arthritis and aging.
     The stuff is even put in dog biscuits.

     One of the chief arguments behind this is the idea that sharks
     don't get cancer.

     ``That idea is wrong. Sharks do get cancer,'' said John C.
     Harshbarger of George Washington University.

     Harshbarger, who heads the federally sponsored Registry of Tumors
     in Lower Animals, described 40 cases of tumors that have been found
     in sharks and their close cousins, the skates, rays and chimerids.

     Harshbarger presented the data Wednesday at a meeting in San
     Francisco of the American Association for Cancer Research. He said
     that most of the cases have long been known to scientists, although
     he added two new ones -- kidney cancer in a dogfish shark and
     lymphoma blood cancer in a sandbar shark.

     ``This is good science that shows us that sharks can get cancer,''
     commented biologist John Coffey of Johns Hopkins University. ``I
     don't think there is any benefit to buying shark cartilage and
     eating it, any more than I think that eating a rabbit will make me
     run faster.''

     Shark cartilage proponents dismissed the latest work as nothing

     ``It's true that some sharks get cancer. I said this in my book,''
     said William Lane, author of the 1992 book ``Sharks Don't Get
     Cancer.'' ``My publisher thought it would be bad to call it,
     `Almost No Sharks Get Cancer.'''

     Still, Lane said, cancer is far less common in sharks that in other
     ocean creatures.

     Harshbarger questions that assertion, too. He said that all of the
     shark cases reported so far are anecdotal discoveries made mostly
     by sharp-eyed biologists. No one has ever done a systematic survey
     of sharks to see how often they get cancer or whether they are less
     prone to the disease than other fish.

     In theory, shark cartilage might stop cancer by blocking the growth
     of new blood vessels, a necessary step in tumor spread. However,
     biologist Gary K. Ostrander of Johns Hopkins said there is no
     animal or human research to support its anticancer properties.

     A study published in November 1998 concluded that shark cartilage
     pills were ineffective in 47 patients with advanced breast, colon,
     lung, and prostate cancer.

     A much larger study will begin later this year at the Mayo Clinic
     to test shark cartilage on 600 terminally ill patients with breast
     and colon cancer. The study will be sponsored by the National
     Institutes of Health and Lane Labs, a company founded by Lane's son
     Andrew that sells shark cartilage.

     Harshbarger said that 23 of the 40 tumors in the registry are in
     sharks, while the rest are in their close relatives. The bodies of
     all these creatures contain cartilage but no bone. He said 12 or 13
     of the 40 tumors were malignant, while the rest were benign, and
     six of the malignant tumors were in sharks.

     Hank Porterfield, head of Us Too, a prostate cancer support group,
     said he thinks the latest information is useful for people with
     cancer who are considering taking supplements.

     ``I've never heard of a case where our patients were helped by
     it,'' Porterfield said. ``Shark cartilage just doesn't work.''


Note to Thomas Donaldson: You really don't need to tell us that if we had
been smart enough to subscribe to Periastron, we would have learned years
ago that sharks get cancer.

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