Mistletoe therapy may be effective against breast cancer

Christer Sundqvist

Extracts of mistletoe (Viscum album L.) are the most prescribed medicinal products in integrative outpatient care for cancer patients in German-speaking countries. The use of mistletoe preparations varies in different types of cancer. Up to 77.3% of breast cancer patients use mistletoe treatment.


The use of mistletoe as a supportive treatment for cancer began in the 1910s when it was brought to our knowledge by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Modern mistletoe treatment for cancer is based on the use of an extract made from mistletoe. Mistletoe extract is usually given as an injection under the skin and is intended for supportive care in addition to conventional cancer treatments.


The use of mistletoe in cancer has been studied for the past 100 years. Today, there is pretty accurate information about the ingredients in the mistletoe extract and the effects of mistletoe. For example, there are effects seen on cell division and differentiation as well as cell death (apoptosis). Effects on signal transmission have also been found. Mistletoe affects the immune system and causes a kind of state of intoxication in cancer cells.


Over the past 30 years, a large number of clinical trials have been conducted, including e.g. dozens of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Results are variable and a proper summary study (meta-analysis) has been expected any time. To date, the most extensive meta-analyzes are a Cochrane report from 2008 and a general review from 2009. In 2019, an extensive two-part meta-analysis was published, which has been criticized for methodological shortcomings.


A European multicenter study of patients with pancreatic cancer (MISTRAL) is currently underway to evaluate the effect of mistletoe treatment on survival and health-related quality of life in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study alongside standard oncology treatment.


Mistletoe is commonly used as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapies and is part of integrative oncology. The benefits of mistletoe therapy are unclear. The best results are obtained in the form of improved quality of life in breast cancer patients.


Source: https://www.mistelihoito.fi/ (in Finnish)


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