Role of Mistletoe Therapy in Cancer Treatment

Dr Farhan Nadaf

What is Cancer?
A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymphatic system. There are several main types of cancer.

  • Carcinoma is a cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
  • Sarcoma is a cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.
  • Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood.
  • Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
  • Central nervous system cancers are cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

What is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is the common name for most obligate hemi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales. Mistletoes attach to and penetrate the branches of a tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which they absorb water and nutrients from the host plant.

The name mistletoe originally referred to the species Viscum album (European mistletoe, of the family Santalaceae in the order Santalales); it was the only species native to Great Britain and much of Europe.

Mistletoe grows on several types of trees, including apple, oak, maple, elm, pine, and birch. It is one of the most widely studied complementary and alternative medicine therapies for cancer. In certain European countries, extracts made from European mistletoe are among the most prescribed therapies for cancer patients.

Mistletoe and Cancer
Mistletoe extracts are prepared as water-based solutions or solutions of water and alcohol. Mistletoe products may be named according to the type of host tree on which the plant grows. For example, Iscador M is from apple trees, Iscador P comes from pine trees, Iscador Qu is from oak trees, and Iscador U comes from elm trees. Some users believe that the type of mistletoe extract chosen should depend on the type of tumor and the sex of the patient.

Extracts of mistletoe have been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and to boost the immune system (the complex group of organs and cells that defends the body against infection or disease). For this reason, mistletoe has been classified as a type of biological response modifier (a substance that stimulates the body’s response to infection and disease). Extracts of mistletoe have also been shown in the laboratory to prevent the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumors to grow.

Ingredients in mistletoe that have been studied for their usefulness in treating cancer include:

Mistletoe extract is studied as a possible anticancer agent because it has been shown to have effects on the immune system and protect the DNA in white blood cells in the laboratory, including cells that have been exposed to DNA-damaging chemotherapy drugs. Animal studies have suggested that mistletoe may be useful in decreasing the side effects of standard anticancer therapy, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Scientific aspect of Mistletoe
The use of mistletoe in cancer therapy is gaining popularity. It has its origins in Rudolf Steiner’s 1920s work when he was developing many ideas about medicinal value of plants.  His ‘science of the spirit’ (anthroposophy) approach suggested that particular plant species could be linked to specific ailments.

He identified mistletoe as a species that could help with cancer treatment and in the following decades his teachings and suggestions for mistletoe treatments have been substantially developed in mainland Europe, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.

There are now a number of dedicated anthroposophic clinics and manufacturers of mistletoe extracts, using the specific processes suggested by Steiner.  The mistletoe treatment is complementary – used alongside and in addition to, conventional cancer treatments.

Research on Mistletoe
There is now considerable research and many trials that seem to show that mistletoe therapy can be effective.  The extracts, which are injected subcutaneously, are thought to stimulate the body’s immune system, and are said to give patients a better quality of life whilst undergoing conventional cancer treatment.

Anthroposophic researchers have found that mistletoe from differing hosts, and at different times of the year has subtly different chemical properties, and prescribe different variants of extract for each type of cancer.

Some of the active ingredients in mistletoe do seem to have potential use in cancer treatment, with conventional medical research finding that the complex compounds (Viscotoxins and Mistletoe Lectins) found in mistletoe can have specific effects on cancer cells and stimulate the immune system.

Use of Iscador, an extract of European mistletoe (Viscum album), in cancer treatment: prospective nonrandomized and randomized matched-pair studies nested within a cohort study.
Grossarth-Maticek R1, Kiene H, Baumgartner SM, Ziegler R.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 May-Jun;7(3):57-66, 68-72, 74-6 passim.

Viscum album L. extracts in breast and gynaecological cancers: a systematic review of clinical and preclinical research.
Kienle GS, Glockmann A, Schink M, Kiene H.
J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Jun 11; 28:79. Epub 2009 Jun 11.

Interaction of Viscotoxins A3 and B with Membrane Model Systems: Implications to Their Mechanism of Action.
Giudici, M., Pascual, R., de la Canal, L., Pfüller, K., Pfüller, U., & Villalaín, J. (2003). Biophysical Journal, 85(2), 971–981.

Survival of cancer patients treated with mistletoe extract (Iscador): a systematic literature review.
Ostermann, T., Raak, C., & Büssing, A. (2009). BMC Cancer, 9(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-451

Preclinical and Clinical Effects of Mistletoe against Breast Cancer
BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 785479, 15 pages

Mistletoe for Pancreatic Cancer.
Dale O’Brien, MD. Pancreatica | Published February 3, 2014

Use of Mistletoe Extract in Cancer patient is associated with better survival despite obvious limitation. It also improves QoL (Quality of Life) of cancer patient. Iscador treatment can achieve a clinically relevant prolongation of survival time of cancer patients and appears to stimulate self-regulation. Use of Iscador also helps in reducing side-effects of conventional treatment like Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy. It is evident from above cited research publications that it has anti-cancer qualities which helps in killing cancer cells.


National Cancer Institute

Mistletoe Therapy UK

The original mistletoe

PubMed Central

BioMed Central





  1. Director HomeoForever |
  2. Medical Officer – V H Medical College
  3. Hon Homeopathic Physician – CSD, Ministry of Defense, Govt. of India
  4. Homeopathic Consultant & Cancer Therapist at AAMRA Care |

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