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CancerGuide: Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Evaluating Alternative Therapies
Separating The Wheat From the Chaff (will open in new window!)
Promising Therapies
+ Bovine Cartilage
Lesser Known Therapies
Popular Therapies
Bovine Cartilage

Introduction and Disclaimer

A variety of names have been used for Processed Bovine Cartilage, including VitaCarte, CATRIX, and BTC. I will use the term BTC (Bovine Tracheal Cartilage) here.

I know a lot more about BTC than about other alternative treatments described in CancerGuide because I am taking it myself, and more importantly, because I am involved in some BTC related projects, and worked closely with the late Dr. John Prudden, BTC's discoverer. I have seen evidence that convinces me that BTC does work some of the time, and that remissions achieved through the use of BTC are often sustained for extremely long periods of time. BTC has been tested on patients with a wide variety of cancers, and there have been successes with a wide variety of different cancers, but it has been tested on relatively few patients with any one cancer, so we do not have good data on what percentage of patients with any particular kind of cancer will achieve remission. It is therefore not rational to substitute bovine cartilage for treatment of proven value, where such treatment exists, and I strongly urge you not to do that. BTC can be used with conventional treatment, and some of the data suggests that it may be synergistic with certain chemotherapies and hormonal treatments, although this is far from firmly established.

The History of BTC and Supporting Data

Despite all of the hype over Shark Cartilage, Bovine Cartilage was around for years before all of the publicity. It was developed by a Harvard trained physician by the name of John F. Prudden who has been using it to treat human cancer since the early 1970's. Dr. Prudden has published a 31 patient case series in which he records some remarkable remissions in a wide variety of intractable malignancies including, but by no means limited to, Pancreatic Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer, and Glioblastoma Multiforme. Some of these patients had been followed for more than five years at the time the case series was published in 1985, and some are still alive today (Spring 1995) with follow-up approaching 20 years.

This paper is "unconventional" in several ways that do put BTC in the category of an alternative therapy. First, it does not appear to be study with a protocol designed with well defined treatment plans and "endpoints" (what will be measured) defined in advance. In fact, Dr. Prudden's treatment varied among the patients and appeared to evolve to a standard 9 gram per day dose over the years his study went on. Despite this, it is reasonably clear that long term oral treatment with moderate doses of BTC can be effective, and long term disappearance of tumors such as documented in many of these cases is the "natural" endpoint. So I don't find these shortcomings to be serious objections to the paper.

Second, the paper reported on only about 1/3 of the patients Dr. Prudden treated - stating that the other 2/3 did not comply with therapy for various reasons. This therapy is so simple to take that it is hard to imagine that two in three patients could not stick with it to save their lives. Dr. Prudden states that in no case did he deliberately exclude any patient who might have quit because the therapy was not working, yet that 2/3 non-compliance rate is awfully high. Because of this high rate of non-compliance, I don't believe one cannot accurately estimate the response rate from this study and I do not believe the reported 91% response rate. But we're talking about advanced cancer here, and any credible evidence for durable responses is important even if you can't estimate the response rate.

At the same time Dr. Prudden's unconventional study has some very important advantages and unique strengths. One major strength is the length of follow-up on his patients. What really counts in cancer therapy is not just responses but whether those responses last. In conventional phase II studies, often the results are reported when the follow-up time is still only a few months. In contrast, most of Dr. Prudden's patients had been under treatment for several years when he published his paper - and some of these responses had lasted for years without relapse. In cancer therapy that's what counts!

Another major strength is the detail with which each case is reported which far exceeds what is reported in most conventional medical papers. Each patient's disease, treatments, including concurrent and prior treatment, and evidence for response are clearly and separately described. (In almost all of these cases there was no other concurrent treatment). For most of the cases, I find the evidence presented to be quite credible and sufficient to conclude that the treatment really did work (unlike most "anecdotal" cases). When patients with well documented cases of intractable cancers, such as pancreatic cancer or glioblastoma multiforme are alive without evidence of disease years after starting BTC treatment and with no other treatment something is going on!

In 1994, a group not associated with Dr. Prudden published an abstract reporting a clinical trial of BTC in 35 patients with Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. 22 of the 35 patients had completed three months of therapy and were evaluable for response. Of these 22, there were three objective responses, none of whom had relapsed with follow-up of 6+, 12+, and 30+ months. There were also two patients with stable disease. While the response rate here is not as good as that reported by Dr. Prudden himself, independent confirmation of anti-cancer activity of a non-toxic alternative treatment is both unusual and exciting. BTC is virtually non-toxic with only rare instances of mild GI tract effects recorded.

BTC therapy consists of taking three grams three times per day in the form of capsules. Cost is about $160.00/month as of this writing. Response may take several months to develop, and if there is a response, treatment should be continued indefinitely. Therefore patients should be prepared to take it over the long term.

In my opinion, BTC makes particular sense for patients with pancreatic cancer, since the prognosis of this cancer has been so poor with conventional therapy, and since there have been a few spectacular successes with BTC. The patient base is still limited though. I also think it makes sense for kidney cancer because of the independent documented evidence, combined with some of Dr. Prudden's cases, and also in prostate cancer. Dr. Prudden seems to have a high success rate with this based on the data I've seen, much of which is not published yet. There are strong hints of synergy with hormone therapy. In all three kinds of cancer, particularly kidney and prostate, it is critically important not to abandon any possibly effective conventional therapy for bovine cartilage, since by conventional standards, the data is still quite thin. Even in the case of pancreatic cancer, surgery can be effective in a few cases, and there are hints that BTC may be synergistic with 5-FU, a chemotherapy drug often used in treating pancreatic cancer. There have been successes in quite a few other types of cancer as well, and in fact BTC's apparent broad spectrum of activity is one of its major attractions. I have selected these three cancers as particularly promising mostly based on there being slightly more data for them.

I don't believe there is any experience with the leukemias where one would not expect immunotherapy to work. Patients with leukemia should probably look elsewhere. Many leukemias are very sensitive to traditional cytotoxic chemotherapy.

Dr. Prudden believes the main mechanism of action is immune modulation by polysaccharide components of BTC, although there may also be a direct cytostatic effect as well.

There is well documented evidence that oral polysaccharides can have immune modulatory and anti-tumor effect in humans. A drug called PSK which is a fungally derived protein bound polysaccharide has over 230 references in Medline, including large randomized trials showing benefit (Often in conjunction with chemotherapy) when taken orally. One of these studies was even published in the Lancet in 1994. PSK is also available as a nutritional supplement. For more information, see my write-up on PSK.

The proponents of shark cartilage claim it works because of anti-angiogenic effects, and indeed cartilage does contain anti-angiogenic factors, however much criticism has been leveled at shark cartilage because the known anti-angiogenic factors are proteins which are digested, not absorbed. But it could well be that the active ingredients in shark cartilage are also really polysaccharides, and that the primary mechanism of action of both shark and bovine cartilage is immune modulation, rather than the supposed anti-angiogenic effects trumpeted by proponents of shark cartilage.

In my opinion compared to shark cartilage BTC is:

  1. Better Documented

    More published studies with more carefully documented cases, and much longer follow-up of treated patients.

  2. Less Expensive

    Full dose shark cartilage therapy costs as much as $700.00/mo compared to $160.00 per month for full dose BTC therapy.

  3. Easier To Take

    Shark cartilage therapy at full doses requires 60-90 grams a day orally or by enema. A significant number of people have difficulty taking this much due to nausea. Furthermore at this dose level, the high calcium content of shark cartilage could aggravate hypercalcemia which is a serious side effect of some cancers.


[MedLine Search on BTC]
[MedLine Search on PSK]

Commonweal has produced a very interesting, and remarkably detailed report covering both shark and bovine cartilage entitled, "Does Cartilage Cure Cancer?"

Where to get BTC

Bovine Cartilage is widely available as a "nutritional supplement". The type Dr. Prudden used the last few years of his life was called "VitaCarte", a product of Phoenix Biolabs which was formed with Dr. Prudden's guidance and support. As of 2007, however, VitaCarte is not available.

Lescarden Corp. was Dr. Prudden's first company and although they and Dr. Prudden parted ways, Lescarden still makes bovine cartilage products, presumably the same as what Dr. Prudden used for years prior to VitaCarte. Lescarden's "Bio-Cartilage" is used in three retail brands as of this writing (9/98) - KAL, Natrol and J.W. Carleson Labs. These can be obtained at health food stores or through various mail order nutritional supplement catalogs. The LesCarden site (CATRIX) is interesting in its own right.

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This CancerGuide Page By Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Page Created: 1995, Last Updated: September, 2007