Misunderstood Marine Life # 4 – The healing power of sharks

Image from WholesaleDietarySupplements.com

Last year, we briefly discussed the myth that sharks don’t get cancer. This myth is easy to disprove, since sharks do, in fact, get cancer. The first cancerous tumor was discovered in a shark over 150 years ago and they have been discovered in more than twenty species. This year, I’m returning to the topic of shark medical myths.

Many parts of sharks have been utilized for their supposed medical benefits. Shark cartilage is sold as an over-the-counter alternative treatment for- you guessed it- cancer. One of the most ridiculous names it’s sold under as “BeneFin”.  According to HowStuffWorks.com, the shark cartilage industry is worth over $25 million a year. The basic idea behind this is that since sharks don’t get cancer, if you eat ground up shark cartilage, your cancer will be treated.

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Ocean of Pseudoscience Shorty – Sharks and Cancer

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.