Alternative and complementary therapies may be referred to as "unproven", "nontoxic", "unorthodox", or "unconventional" therapies, and represent methods which do not have a scientifically-proven basis. The following information is intended to help people with cancer and their families make decisions about the use of such treatments. The Anti-Cancer Foundation does not, however, endorse alternative cancer therapies.

We recommend you read this information sheet together with "Making An Informed Choice".

Rationale / Background / Claims
  • In 1971, Dr Judah Folkman published a hypothesis regarding tumour growth which stated:

            - Tumours cannot grow without a network of blood vessels to nourish them and to remove waste      products.

            - Inhibiting the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in tumours may be a potential anti-cancer therapy.

  • As cartilage does not contain blood vessels, it was reasoned that it may have an inherent mechanism for preventing angiogenesis. Supporters believe that a protein present in the cartilage is responsible for this action.
  • The cartilage theoretically should be most effective against fast-growing, highly vascularised tumours, such as those of the breast, cervix, central nervous system and liver.

  • The number of cancers found in sharks is quoted as being insignificant.

What does the therapy involve?

  • Shark cartilage is available as either pills or loose powder. Powdered cartilage can be taken either orally or rectally.
  • Depending on a person's weight, the dosage could range from 40g to 90g per day.
  • When taken orally in the form of the powder, it is mixed with either water, milk, vegetable juice (eg carrot, tomato) or with a fruit nectar (eg pineapple, apricot). The powder is mixed with the juice in a blender to produce a frothy shake. These shakes are consumed three to four times daily, usually 30 minutes prior to meals. Theoretically, when taken on an empty stomach, the drink passes rapidly through the stomach acids, thus avoiding breakdown of the active proteins.

Toxicity / Risks
  • Shark cartilage has been deemed as non-toxic by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Some "copycat" shark cartilage products have no anti-angiogenic effect, while others have a high bacterial count as a result of poor purification methods.
  • Children, pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant and those who have had recent surgery or major illnesses, should not take shark cartilage as it may prevent the formation of new blood vessels required for growth and repair.
  • Human trials on the effectiveness of shark cartilage in the treatment of cancer have been conducted in Cuba and Mexico. The results of these studies have not been published in reputable medical journals.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that humans can effectively absorb the protein components in the cartilage.
Costs and Commitment
  • The cost is approximately $40 for 100 capsules, $130 for 400 capsules, or $100 for 200g of powder.
In Summary . . .
Studies in humans have only been published in news articles. Full data are unavailable, and the studies have not been subjected to peer review. Due to the lack of credible scientific evidence at this time supporting this therapy, shark cartilage cannot be recommended as a treatment for cancer.

For further information contact the:
Anti-Cancer Foundation of South Australia
(ABN 29 053 873 822)
202 Greenhill Road, Eastwood SA 5063
PO Box 929, Unley SA 5061
Tel: (08) 8291 4111
1800 188 070 country callers
Fax: (08) 8291 4122

This resource was produced in 1998 by Sally Zeunert.