One of the most prevalent shark myths is “sharks don’t get cancer”. This is associated with the more troubling myth that consuming shark cartilage will cure humans of cancer. Despite the success of books with titles like “Sharks don’t get cancer: How shark cartilage could save your life” and “Sharks still don’t get cancer: The continuing story of shark cartilage therapy“, the fact remains that sharks do get cancer.
According to a 2004 article from the Journal of Cancer Research, the first elasmobranch tumor was discovered in 1853 and they have since been found in 21 species. Some suggest that this is a relatively low incidence of cancer, but one of this paper’s authors brings up a good point in an interview with National Geographic News:
“Any suggestion that they get it at a lower rate than humans or other fish, is premature – because there haven’t been any carefully conducted systematic studies. I have not seen anything in the scientific literature that gives any confidence, with certainty, that sharks get cancer at a lower rate than fish or other species.”
The immune system of sharks is the subject of a great deal of research, and some of this research may one day lead to a cure for cancer. However, beliefs that simply consuming part of a shark will give you some of that shark’s abilities are the intellectual equivalent of me claiming that eating Michael Jordan would make me better at basketball. While the cartilage pill industry is not even close to the scale of the shark finning industry, killing sharks to sell ground up cartilage to desperate cancer patients is wrong on many levels.
Christie, from Observations of a Nerd has joined in on an Ocean of Pseudoscience Week with this epic posts, providing even more proof that sharks do get cancer.