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Why Sharks Hardly Ever Get Cancer

A 1992 Book entitled Sharks Don’t Get Cancer, by William Lane, PhD., lead to a massive increase in the sales and use of Shark Cartilage products, especially powdered supplements.  Despite the fact that the book was based on scant medical research that was undocumented in Mexico and Cuba.

The basic premise of this book (and of the general argument used to support the theory as to why sharks don’t get cancer) is this, Shark cartilage seems to be antiangiogenic (it inhibits the development of red blood cells, which cancer cells need).  Since sharks skeletons are made of cartilage, they don’t get cancer.  Regardless, the book did draw attention in the form of research to the topic, leading to better clarity on current and future cancer fighting potential for humans.

Sharks Don’t Get Cancer: How Shark Cartilage Could Save Your Life

As it turns out, sharks do in fact get cancer.  In 2013, The Journal of Fish Disease published the first ever photograph of a Great White Shark with a 1 ft long tumor.  Additional, examples have also surfaced.  However, it has to be conceded that though sharks do get cancer, it seems to be very uncommon.  Of the thousands of fish tumors you can go see at the Smithsonian (yes you can see thousands of fish tumors there) only 15 are from shark or shark related species (of these only 2 are malignant).

Research has shown that compounds from shark tissues can inhibit growth of new blood vessels on tumors.

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“Several studies have demonstrated anti-tumor properties of shark-derived compounds in lab studies,  said Shivji, who co-led this research with Michael Stanhope, a Cornell scientist.

Shark’s skeleton is made up of entirely cartilage and lacks any true bony tissue. It is this skeleton that is believed to contain the substances that provide sharks with their immunity to cancer.

Though sharks do have very low cancer rates, all research indicates that currently there is no effective treatment for cancer in humans using sharks cartilage products.  This is not due to the fact that the mechanism of action (the shark angiogenin inhibitor) is ineffective, but due to the fact that when congested it is not able to be absorbed across the intestinal walls into the blood stream.

It is clear that sharks have very low cancer rates and their cartilage does in fact contain an angiogenin inhibitor.  Since cancer can be defined as “uncontrolled cellular growth”, cancer cells require a lot of nutrients to support this uncontrolled growth.  Cancer cells do this by releasing Angiogenin (which stimulates red blood cells to grow antennas to the cancer cells thus bringing in additional nutrients and carrying away waste materials).  This is how cancer cells grow so fast.

Cancer spreads in a similar way by riding the waste material back through the antennas and into the blood stream where it spreads and colonizes in a different part of the body.  This is how cancer spreads.  Thus, since shark cartilage contains a chemical agent that inhibits the red blood cells from growing antennas into the cancer cells, the cancer cells will not receive additional nutrients to grow nor will it have the metastasis (the release of waste material back into the blood stream) to spread further.  Seems worth looking into!

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