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Mistletoe for Cancer Treatment

White berry mistletoe is a medicinal plant that has been in use for cancer treatment, in all stages of growth. Its use in Europe for some time has been considered mainstream and is widely used, while in the U.S. many practitioners still regard it as complementary (it has not yet received approval by the FDA). Not unlike a cancerous tumor, mistletoe is a semi-“parasitic” plant and possesses an advantage over other life forms as it can exist in an environment that does not have to compete for nutrients.

Discovered in 1917 by Dr. Ita Wegman, a Dutch practitioner, created the first injectable mistletoe treatment, which today is considered a complementary approach to oncology. The treatment can be employed before or after the following: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, anti-body, or hormonal treatments. A doctor should administer the initial treatment of mistletoe and educate the patient, after which the patient can inject their own or with the assistance of a caregiver. It is favored by those who know about its benefits since it is economical in cost and has few side effects.

Side Effects

Side effects can include fever, headache, chills and soreness, and inflammation at injection sites. Most common treatments are given subcutaneously via injection; less common are orally, into a vein (intravenously), into the pleural cavity, or directly into a tumor site.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Some promising findings have shown mistletoe as a viable option for breast cancer treatment. There are studies showing anticancer activity of mistletoe extracts on breast cancer cells and animal models. Recent evidence shows cytotoxic activity (quality of being toxic to certain types of cells) of mistletoe may be induced via different approaches, providing a substantive base for clinical trials. Various studies on mistletoe treatment for those diagnosed with breast cancer supplied similar evidence regarding advantages for health-related quality of life, survival span, rates of remission, and reduction of side effects from conventional therapy.

“In experiments using Iscador Q, Iscador M, and Iscador P [mistletoe extract], Ramaekers et al. in 2007 [65] indicated that different Iscador preparations can induce cell cycle inhibition and tumor cell regression. They observed concentration-dependent inhibition in cell cycle machinery, particularly complete inhibition of S-phase progression in MCF7 breast cancer cell line.”


Liver Cancer

An interesting case study about mistletoe for liver cancer comes from a 37-year-old mother of 4 who was diagnosed and treated for colon cancer and had 15 inches of colon and 28 lymph nodes removed learned after surgery that the cancer had spread to her liver. She underwent more surgery to remove 20 percent of her liver, but instead of undergoing conventional chemotherapy for additional treatment, she chose mistletoe therapy, suggested by another consulting doctor on the case (Peter Hinderberger of Baltimore’s Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center).

From Luis Diaz, an associate professor of oncology in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on this case: “I’m an oncologist who treats with chemotherapy – and I’m really good at it – and here’s somebody who says not only do I not want chemotherapy, but I still want you to be my oncologist while I’m getting mistletoe,” Diaz says. “I reviewed the literature on mistletoe in other parts of the world and there is some acceptance of it. I was willing to work with her.” The next time the doctor saw his patient, he was amazed.

“The one thing I noticed was that as soon as she went on it, she started feeling better,” he recalls.

“That’s a universal feature I’ve seen in all patients who get mistletoe. Their [color] improves; they have more energy.”

The mother of four has experienced full recovery since her procedure and regards the improved state of her health to the combined effects of surgery, diet and exercise, and mistletoe treatment.

Studies of Mistletoe Extracts in Humans

The majority of clinical trials using mistletoe extract have been performed in Europe, mostly as an adjuvant therapy in those diagnosed with cancer. Here are two studies using large numbers of patients:

  • Between 1993 and 2000 a retrospective cohort study was performed with 800 patients to examine mistletoe extract for adjuvant treatment long-term. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for colorectal cancer was employed and conclusions found that those using mistletoe experienced a reduction in adverse events, improved symptom relief, and increased disease-free survival rates versus those not using mistletoe therapy.
  • A 2013 study examined mistletoe use with advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer patients. Best supportive care practices were used and patients received random assignments for mistletoe or anti-cancer approach. Results in 200 patients showed that those receiving mistletoe therapy experienced improved survival and lowered symptoms connected with diseases such as weight loss, fatigue, anxiety, diarrhea, nausea, and pain as compared with those not using mistletoe therapy.

See more studies using mistletoe here.  

Mistletoe’s Potential Benefits

For the Immune System Mistletoe is noted for its benefit to the immune system and ability to improve quality of life because of its “anti-tendency” and is suitable for the treatment of nearly all types of tumors. Following injection into the tumor site, a rash is created, signaling the mounting of an immune system attack.

Mistletoe use increases the production of several white cell blood types. These white blood cells release cytokines (division of a cell which occurs during the conclusion of mitosis or meiosis, allowing separation into two daughter cells) such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 that are of immune-system enhancing nature. Mistletoe allows the synthesis of protein in specified cells to facilitate the natural destruction of rogue cells, called apoptosis.

Treatment also can dramatically reduce side effects and improve tolerance of conventional treatments – including chemotherapy – without lowering efficacy rates/outcomes.

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