Experimental Treatment Issues
Low-Dose Oral Shark Cartilage to Treat Kaposi's Sarcoma
As the rates of AIDS-related cancers rise in the United States, more people will look for alternative ways to treat these specific cancers. One alternative method that is currently being studied is the use of shark cartilage. Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a tumor that usually appears on the skin and most commonly affects HIV-positive men who have sex with other men. Kaposi's sarcoma is caused by human herpes virus-8, a sexually transmitted virus (HHV-8). Although there is no cure for KS, sometimes the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), with or without chemotherapy, can help shrink and control KS lesions.
Physicians at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio, have recently reported details about treatment of a KS lesion with shark cartilage. According to their case study, a 45-year-old HIV-negative man who developed a KS lesion on his foot was treated with 1 gram of oral ganciclovir, three times daily for three months (because of its possible anti-HHV-8 activity), but this had no effect on his lesion. The patient and his doctors then chose an unconventional approach to KS treatment by using low-dose oral shark cartilage. Researchers monitored the man as he took shark cartilage at a dose of 1,875 mg twice daily for the first three months. The dose was then changed to 1,500 mg three times daily for another 18 months. After three months, the lesion began to shrink and its color faded. By the sixth month it was thinner and almost impossible to notice. No side effects were reported during this time.
Although shark cartilage has been tested in people with cancer, those subjects had received chemotherapy (chemotherapy is known to be successful in combination with shark cartilage), and also had "advanced" cancers of the breast, colon and/or lungs. Research shows that most species of sharks have an extremely low, almost non-existent rate of cancer. Studies have found that the cartilage of the shark may be responsible for this. The proteins in the cartilage can prevent the growth of capillary and other blood vessels. As tumors grow, they must create blood vessels that bring in nutrients and eliminate wastes. If shark cartilage can stop the growth of these vessels, the tumor will starve, eventually killing itself. Special sugars in the cartilage called mucopolysaccharides work with the proteins in the cartilage and are said to stimulate the immune system and help fight disease. KS tumors are often associated with a rich network of blood vessels, so perhaps it is not surprising that several research teams are now studying this therapy because of its potential to reduce blood vessel growth and starve the KS tumor.
Recently, the FDA has approved clinical trials using shark cartilage on non-responsive prostate cancer and Karposi's sarcoma. Until a controlled clinical trial with HIV-positive individuals takes place, the effectiveness of shark cartilage will be under investigation. Because shark cartilage reportedly blocks the development of new blood vessels, pregnant women and people who have recently suffered a heart attack or have had major surgery recently should not use shark cartilage. Because the above-mentioned patient was HIV-negative, future research needs to examine issues relevant to people with HIV/AIDS, such as drug interactions and the additive effect of chemotherapy. The cost for treatment is approximately $1.08 and $1.32 US per day for shark cartilage.
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Hillman J.D., Peng A.T., Gilliam A.C., et al. "Treatment of Kaposi sarcoma with oral administration of shark cartilage in a human herpesevirus 8-seropositive, human immunodeficiency virus-seronegative homosexual man." Archives of Dermatology 2001;137:1149-1152.