Mistletoe Therapy: Can It Really Help Against Cancer?

Mistletoe Therapy: Can It Really Help Against Cancer?

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Current study situation: Effect of mistletoe therapy against cancer not proven

In the past, mistletoe was a symbol of fertility. The evergreen plant was also said to be able to protect against evil. And its healing effects are still valued today. Mistletoe is used, among other things, for lowering blood pressure, for old age and arteriosclerosis. It is also said to help against cancer. But is that really the case?

According to the "ONKO Internet portal" of the German Cancer Society, mistletoe therapy is "one of the best-known complementary procedures used in Germany for cancer treatments to improve the quality of life and reduce the side effects caused by system therapy". According to the cancer information service of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the current study situation does not allow a clear statement on the effectiveness of mistletoe preparations.

Mistletoe therapy for cancer for more than a hundred years

Mistletoe therapy for cancer has been around for about a hundred years, according to the Cancer Information Service. According to the information, the application of the plant extracts originally comes from anthroposophic medicine. Complex proteins, the lectins, are said to be particularly active against the tumor.

However, many experts are rather critical of the use of mistletoe preparations in cancer treatment. They argue that to this day there is no unequivocal proof of the effectiveness against tumor diseases. In addition, there are qualitative deficiencies in the implementation of the present clinical studies - it is not always possible to understand how the results came about in detail.

In addition, research results are sometimes used to advertise mistletoe therapy, which, as usual, were not published in specialist journals after being reviewed by experts. Scientifically based evidence of the supposedly improved quality of life under mistletoe therapy is still in short supply.

Due to the data situation, mistletoe treatment does not play a role in the currently valid guidelines for cancer therapy. These guidelines provide recommendations for the best possible therapy based on scientific knowledge.

Only as accompanying and supportive treatment

"Everyone, including anthroposophic doctors and the manufacturers of mistletoe preparations in Germany, agree - mistletoe therapy is no alternative to standard procedures such as chemotherapy," said Susanne Weg-Remers, head of the cancer information service at the DKFZ.

“At most, it can be used as an accompanying and supportive treatment. We recommend those seeking advice not to use mistletoe therapy without consulting the doctor in charge, ”said the expert.

Positive effects

However, the current study situation shows that mistletoe therapy is used in accompanying cancer treatment, according to Dr. Gunver Sophia Kienle from the Institute for Integrative Medicine (IfIM) of the Faculty of Health at the University of Witten / Herdecke, all in all mostly positive results, which we recently reported here.

The research results, which were presented in the specialist journal "Phytomedicine", attest the therapy effects on an improvement in quality of life and an "extremely significant advantage" in terms of survival in advanced pancreatic cancer.

The results of another - still ongoing - study by a research team led by Christian Grah from the Havelhöhe Research Institute (FIH) also indicate various positive effects of mistletoe therapy for the relief of symptoms of lung cancer: "The analysis shows no clinically relevant increase in side effects, but a decrease symptoms, ”the researchers report in the specialist magazine“ Phytomedicine ”.

Not an option for certain types of cancer

As the cancer information service of the DKFZ explains, mistletoe preparations are injected - usually in or under the skin. Most patients tolerate the treatment well. The most likely side effects are pain and inflammation at the injection site, headache, and flu-like symptoms.

However, interactions with cancer drugs and allergic reactions pose a problem. In addition, special caution seems to be advised for some cancers.

For example, experts explicitly advise patients with leukemia, lymphoma, renal cell carcinoma or black skin cancer (malignant melanoma) from mistletoe therapy. According to the DKFZ, there are indications from clinical studies that these cancers could worsen with mistletoe therapy.

Mistletoe therapy is also not an option for sufferers with brain tumors and metastases. This can lead to fluid retention around the tumor tissue, which increases the risk of brain edema in these patients. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ): Mystical mistletoe: Effect against cancer not proven, (accessed: December 10, 2019), German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
  • German Cancer Society: MISTLETHERAPY: HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT? (Accessed: December 10, 2019), ONKO Internet portal
  • Cancer Information Service: Mistletoe Therapy for Cancer, (accessed: December 10, 2019), Cancer Information Service
  • Phytomedicine: Current developments of clinical research on mistletoe therapy in cancer care, (accessed: December 10, 2019), Phytomedicine
  • Phytomedicine: First prospective study of a combined immune therapy of checkpoint inhibitors ± CTX plus Viscum album L. in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in UICC stage III B-IV B, (accessed: December 10, 2019), Phytomedicine

Video: Pancreatic Cancer: Treatment and Outcomes (November 2022).