Mistletoe is a wonderful herbal medicine for cancer. When most people hear the word mistletoe, they think of the kissing plant we hang on the ceiling during Christmas holidays. Amazingly, this same plant has well researched and scientifically backed anticancer properties as well.
The treatment involves 1-2 ml of a liquid mistletoe extract being added to an IV solution, or injected subcutaneously 2-3 times per week. Mistletoe is a part of regular cancer care in many European countries. In fact, one study found that among all cancer patients in Germany, mistletoe was the second most commonly used outpatient treatment, second only to Tamoxifen.
Hundreds of publications have attested to the numerous pharmacological effects of mistletoe therapy for cancer. Mistletoe has been shown to increase the blood concentrations of various types of white blood cells involved in cell killing responses. It has also been shown to have DNA protective effects, which results in less side effects from chemotherapy, such as immune suppression.
Additionally, it has been shown in animal studies that increasing doses of mistletoe is cytotoxic (toxic to cells), can prevent metastases, and inhibits angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth that feeds tumours). The following images are from Klopp et al (2003) showing blood flow at day 0 (left, prior to mistletoe extract) and decreased blood flow after day 14 (right, after mistletoe injections).
Most research is aimed at establishing the extent to which mistletoe can improve a patient’s quality of life during conventional therapy, and how it can improve tolerability of treatment. The vast majority support the notion that mistletoe can enable higher doses of chemotherapy, which may allow superior clinical response, while at the same time protecting the body from the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, such as fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite and nausea.
Clinical Trials & Retrospective Analyses
PREVENTION OF SIDE EFFECTS
A study of 65 breast cancer patients treated with both chemotherapy and mistletoe were shown to have increased quality of life on 10 out of 15 dimensions (role function, emotional and cognitive function, insomnia, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting). Additionally, there were less of cases of immune suppression.(1)
A phase III trial studied 220 advanced pancreatic patients receiving thrice weekly injections of mistletoe extract along side conventional chemotherapy (gemcitabine). The study sought to compare overall survival and quality of life of patients receiving mistletoe versus those who were not. Of those patients receiving mistletoe treatments, overall survival was significantly prolonged, and disease related symptoms were significantly reduced.(2)
A phase II trial of 72 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) were receiving carboplatin/gemcitabine protocols as well as thrice weekly mistletoe injections. The patients receiving mistletoe treatments had less hospitalizations and less chemotherapy toxicity compared to those who did not receive mistletoe. The researchers concluded that mistletoe deserves the attention of large scale clinical trials.(3).
Multiple retrospective analyses has suggested that mistletoe may have a positive effect on overall survival. These analyses were quite large, and included many different types of cancer. The analyses that showed prolonged survival included:
- 237 lymphoma and chronic leukaemia patients;
- 1,246 breast cancer patients;
- 476 colorectal patients; and
- 284 melanoma patients.
Finally, a 2008 Cochrane review (the Cochrane collaboration is a highly respected team that critically analyzes published research) showed that of 16 clinical trials published on the effect of mistletoe for the treatment of cancer, 14 showed a positive effect on quality of life, 6 showed a positive effect for enhanced survival, and 2 showed a positive effect on tumour killing.(4)
- Onkologie 2010; 33.
- Eur J Cancer, 2013;49(18):3788-97.
- Eur J Cancer, 2013; 49(5):1058-64.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008;2.