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Sunday, May 29, 2022
HomeLatest NewsWhy do sharks (almost) have no cancer?

Why do sharks (almost) have no cancer?

Homo sapiens has only existed on this planet for about 300,000 years. By comparison, there were already sharks 450 million years ago. They were there before the first dinosaurs and are still with us today.

Sharks are strong animals, and their large, full-toothed mouths give us a primal fear. Because of this, there are many myths about them. The movies have made us think that sharks eat people when they get the chance, but in fact, there are only a few dozen attacks a year, and most of them are committed by mistake, since we are not shark food. Far more people drown in a bathtub than a shark eats.

One of the most interesting myths is that sharks never get cancer. Part of the responsibility for the myth lies with a book published in 1992 under the same title. The author, William Lane, was convicted of false advertising, already claiming that shark cartilage supplements could treat cancer. Studies have shown these claims to be unfounded, yet they have managed to sell shark cartilage as a supplement for years, aggravating the situation of these animals, which are threatened by overfishing.

cancer and sharks

But do sharks have cancer or not? The truth is that sharks do have cancer. The first specimen with tumors was found in 1908. True, they get less cancer than other animals.

There are several reasons why sharks are more resistant to cancer. First, sharks don’t have bones, they have cartilage. In animals like humans, bones are the factories where immune system cells are made and from there they enter the bloodstream. This process is relatively slow.

However, boneless sharks develop their defenses in the spleen and thymus, which enter the bloodstream much faster and allow them to respond more quickly to infections and small tumors.

Another reason is that cartilage does not have blood vessels. Shark cartilage contains a compound called an angiogenin inhibitor. Angiogenin stimulates the formation of new blood vessels in the tissue. Something that will come in handy if you’re recovering from a wound, but will be a disaster when cancer cells use it to grow tumors.

For three decades, researchers have been looking for a way to locally inhibit angiogenin so that tumors remain without blood supply and disappear. Unfortunately, there are no promising results in this direction yet. But even if there were, it makes no sense to take shark cartilage for the same reason that if you have oily hair, then you don’t drink shampoo. It doesn’t work like that.

Overexploitation and overfishing of sharks, which involves cutting off their fins to make the famous soup and returning them to the sea to die, is pushing these magnificent animals to the brink of extinction. Sharks are essential to the ecosystem of the ocean and the survival of the planet. We must protect them.

* Dario Pescador is editor and director of Quo magazine and author of Your Best Self, published by Oberon.


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