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White berry mistletoe and cancer

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

In Europe, extracts from Viscum album (VA-E), the European white-berry mistletoe, are widely used to treat patients with cancer (1,2,3)

  • in 1920, mistletoe extracts were introduced for the first time as a cancer treatment by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of anthroposophy. He recommended a drug extract produced in a complicated manufacturing process combining sap from mistletoe harvested in the winter and summer
    • based on his recommendations, several Anthroposophic doctors have treated their cancer patients with these extracts within the last century

  • however scientific research has confirmed the folklore with evidence that mistletoe extracts (1,2)
    • (1) induce apoptosis,
    • (2) stimulate immunocompetent cells, and
    • (3) protect the DNA of mononuclear cells

  • results from in vitro studies and animal models indicate that the direct application of VA-E and their specific components (i.e., the cytotoxic mistletoe lectins) results in a destruction of tumours and metastases, and in an increased survival of the animals.

Analysis of evidence relating to efficacy of mistletoe therapy in cancer has been undertaken:

  • a Cochrane review concluded (4):
    • "..The evidence from RCTs to support the view that the application of mistletoe extracts has impact on survival or leads to an improved ability to fight cancer or to withstand anticancer treatments is weak. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that mistletoe extracts may offer benefits on measures of QOL during chemotherapy for breast cancer, but these results need replication"

  • a more recent systematic literature review analysed the effects of tht mistletoe extract (Iscador) in the treatment of cancer (3) and concluded
    • "....Pooled analysis of clinical studies suggests that adjuvant treatment of cancer patients with the mistletoe extract Iscador is associated with a better survival. Despite obvious limitations, and strong hints for a publication bias which limits the evidence found in this meta-analysis, one can not ignore the fact that studies with positive effects of VA-E on survival of cancer patients are accumulating.."

Reference:

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