Jumping the shark cartilage

It's a seminal moment in TV history: The Fonz, in leather and water-skis, jumping over a shark. The producers of Happy Days could not have known that they were launching what would become a widely understood metaphor signaling last-ditch desperation.

Ostensibly this should have nothing to do with cancer but immediately it does. I dislike when people say that a lymphoma diagnosis is a "lucky" one, there is no lucky cancer diagnosis.

That said, no group of cancers has benefitted more from research over the last forty years the way blood cancers have. But while many survive their lymphoma, many don't. And the path there sometimes features … a shark.


You've seen shark cartilage for sale as a cancer cure on a variety of shady web sites, but what makes anyone think that shark cartilage can cure cancer?

The nonsense goes back at least to an idiot named William Lane and his preferred snake oil, BeneFin. One day some time ago Lane arrived at a mind-blowing syllogism:

Sharks are largely cartilage
They don't get cancer
Shark cartilage cures cancer

It's a fallacy to assert that sharks don't get cancer. It's rare, but it happens. What the issue turns on is the absence of blood vessels in the cartilage. This absence makes cancerous growth very difficult, but not impossible. The chief flaw in this approach is to believe that cancer is somehow not capable of something. You can never count cancer out. It is the ultimate opponent.


This section could be really short, because there is no evidence. Keep in mind I am a skeptic; I'm not beholden to disprove the alleged anti-cancer benefits of shark cartilage. Put another way, it's not my responsibility to prove a negative, that shark cartilage sucks. It's the job of the slimeballs selling this garbage to prove that it DOES work—something they have consistently failed to do.

Among a dozen or so actual clinical trials, only one conformed to scientific standards, was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and can be given any reasonable consideration.

This trial, carried out by the Mayo Clinic, featured 83 patients with either advanced (read: terminal) colon or breast cancer. Half the group received shark cartilage, the other half, a placebo. They all received standard care as well, simply because it would be cruel and inhumane to do otherwise. Results?

The group receiving the cartilage neither lived any longer nor enjoyed a higher quality of life than the group receiving the placebo. Don't take my word for it, check out the PubMed abstract, Evaluation of shark cartilage in patients with advanced cancer: a North Central Cancer Treatment Group.


So what has me on this train today? One of my email addresses gets a newsletter from an outfit called NaturalNews, and this morning they're leading with a story about a "brain cancer irradiation machine" that apparently has been mis-calibrated for six years, exposing patients to higher levels of radiation than is safe. I don't know if this is true or not, for my purposes it doesn't matter. Here's how they open the story:

  • "One of the advantages of natural medicine is that if you make a mistake on your dosage, it's usually no big deal because natural medicine is inherently safe."

[Safe because they don't actually do anything.] The author revels in the machine's mis-calibration, exhibiting a total lack of empathy for these patients. For him this is sweet schadenfreude, and it's hardly an isolated example. Why is it that natural remedy proponents take such pleasure in the fallibility of modern therapies? The entire field of alternative medicine would benefit greatly if they stopped looking for vulnerabilities in the enemy and instead focused more closely on firming up the science behind their own remedies.

He then goes on to pummel radiotherapy altogether, extracting from one mis-calibrated machine an institutionalized killer across modern medicine. This is normal for the site; the writers—unencumbered by any sense of editorial prudence—ignore arguments from logic and instead heap one rhetorical argument upon another.

Take this example, from Healing Illness- A Natural Anti-Cancer Protocol:

  • "Studies have indicated that shark cartilage is effective at preventing cancer tumors from growing and spreading."

This is true—and it's a lie, by omission. We readers are styled to infer that these studies were in actual humans. They weren't. They were in Petri dishes. Lots of things work great in a dish, not so great in the human body.

The author finishes with a rhetorical burst:

  • "For those of you who continue to believe the big lie that the harsh and ineffective options offered by mainstream medicine … are superior to nature, I ask: When did God become a quack?"

A – No valid argument can be predicated on the notion that God exists;
B – Who called God a quack? The implication is that natural remedies and God are equivalent, a fallacy known (and widely misunderstood) as begging the question.


What irks me about shit like shark cartilage is that these products can't just cure cancer; no, they also work for migraines, depression, mad-cow disease, fibromyalgia, typhus, consumption and fatigue.

Isn't it enough that a cancer cure do just that—cure cancer? Why must they pile on the illnesses and ailments, turning every alternative herbal remedy out there into the great white panacea? The answer is obvious: Sales. Why limit your market to cancer patients? Your product being no better or more dangerous than a placebo, might as well try to sell them to everybody.

This panacea approach subverts any remaining credibility and exposes companies that sell this shit as parasitic and opportunistic—a cancer patient is at his most desperate, they'll try anything now, got 'em, hook, line and sinker.

So they buy into the likes of the shark when they would be far better off simply jumping it.

Ross Bonander
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