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Bovine Cartilage

Other common name(s): bovine tracheal cartilage (BTC)

Scientific/medical name(s): none

Description

The use of bovine cartilage is promoted as an alternative treatment for cancer. The cartilage is extracted from various parts of a cow, but usually comes from the trachea (windpipe). Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that is found in the skeletal systems of many animals, including humans. The major compounds in bovine cartilage are proteoglycans, which are large molecules formed when proteins and complex sugars are chemically linked together.

Overview

Although some laboratory and animal studies have shown that components isolated from bovine cartilage have some ability to halt the growth of cancer cells, these effects have not been studied in humans. No well-controlled clinical studies have been published in the available medical literature.

How is it promoted for use?

Bovine cartilage is promoted as a dietary supplement for the treatment of cancer, osteoporosis, and other conditions. Supporters claim that bovine cartilage may act in several ways: by directly stopping or slowing cancer cell growth, by boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation, and by preventing tumors from forming new blood vessels.

What does it involve?

Bovine cartilage is available as a dietary supplement in pill or powder form. It has also been used in an injectable form. It is usually taken daily, but there are no widely agreed- upon standard doses.

What is the history behind it?

The therapeutic potential of various types of cartilage have been studied for more than 40 years. The first reported use of bovine cartilage to treat a person with cancer was in 1972. John F. Prudden, MD, a New York surgeon, treated 31 patients with various types of cancer over several years. He published the results of this treatment in 1985. While his initial report showed a high response rate, it was not a formal clinical trial, and some patients also received conventional treatment along with bovine cartilage. Clinical trials done since then have not been able to duplicate these results.

While bovine cartilage is still available as a dietary supplement, interest in its use to treat cancer has dwindled in recent years as a result of the increased popularity of shark cartilage for this same purpose (see Shark Cartilage).

What is the evidence?

There is some evidence from laboratory and animal studies that substances in cartilage may have an effect on the immune system and on angiogenesis. However, few studies have been done in humans.

Dr. Prudden’s initial 1985 report claimed that more than half of his patients had a complete response to treatment, with all signs of cancer disappearing. However, as mentioned, this was a report of cases and not a preplanned study, and some patients received mainstream treatment at the same time.

Two small studies were conducted after Dr. Prudden’s report. In the first study of 9 patients with various cancers (reported in 1985), one patient with advanced kidney cancer was said to have had a complete response. In the other 8 patients, the cancer continued to grow. This led to a second study of 22 patients with kidney cancer. Three of these patients supposedly had a partial response, with the tumor shrinking by more than half. Although the results were presented in an abstract at a 1994 conference, they were never fully reported in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Compared to medical journal articles, conference presentations typically contain relatively sparse details about methods of the study and are not scrutinized as thoroughly by other experts in the same field of research, so it is difficult to evaluate the design of the study or the validity of conclusions. No further studies of bovine cartilage have been published in the available medical literature.

The forms of bovine cartilage given by injection are regulated as experimental drugs. The products taken by mouth are classified as dietary supplements.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must provide the FDA with results of detailed testing showing their product is safe and effective before the drug is approved for sale), the companies that make supplements do not have to show evidence of safety or health benefits to the FDA before selling their products. Supplement products without any reliable scientific evidence of health benefits may still be sold as long as the companies selling them do not claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease. Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is written on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Though the FDA has written new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing processes for dietary supplements and the accurate listing of supplement ingredients, these rules do not take full effect until 2010. And, the new rules do not address the safety of supplement ingredients or their effects on health when proper manufacturing techniques are used.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.

Side effects of bovine cartilage are reportedly mild and may include fever, nausea, and upset stomach. Those allergic to beef products should avoid it. It is not known whether interactions between bovine cartilage and other medicines would cause any problems. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer could have serious health consequences.

Additional resources

More information from your American Cancer Society

The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).

Dietary Supplements: What Is Safe?

The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management

Complementary and Alternative Methods and Cancer

Placebo Effect

Learning About New Ways to Treat Cancer

Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer

References

National Cancer Institute Physician Data Query (PDQ). Cartilage (Bovine and Shark). 2006. Accessed at: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cartilage/healthprofessional. on June 11, 2008.

Prudden JF: The treatment of human cancer with agents prepared from bovine cartilage. J Biol Response Mod. 1985; 4(6): 551-84.

Puccio C, Mittelman A, Chun P, et al.: Treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma with Catrix. [Abstract] Proc Am Soc Clin Oncol. 1994; 13: A-769, 246.

Romano CF, Lipton A, Harvey HA, et al.: A phase II study of Catrix-S in solid tumors. J Biol Response Mod. 1985; 4(6): 585-589.

Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.

Last Medical Review: 11/01/2008
Last Revised: 11/01/2008