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Using Mistletoe for the Treatment of Cancer

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This treatment modality is used in place of conventional therapies to treat cancer.  Seek advice from a qualified physician before replacing standard cancer therapy with mistletoe treatment.

What does mistletoe treatment involve?  Mistletoe, a semi-parasitic plant, has been used for over 75 years to treat tumors and is one of the most widely used alternative cancer treatments in Europe.  Mistletoe extract is usually administered by subcutaneous injections in the morning hours, ideally near the site of disease, three to seven times a week.  Treatment duration can be several months to years.

How is mistletoe thought to treat cancer?  Mistletoe extracts are used to stimulate the immune system and kill cancer cells.  The active ingredients in mistletoe, viscotoxins and lectins, can kill cells by damaging cellular membranes, stopping protein synthesis and stimulating the immune system. 

What has been proven about the benefit of mistletoe?  The major effects of mistletoe as determined in laboratory and animal studies include stimulation of the immune system, induction of programmed cell death (apoptosis) and protection from potential carcinogens.  Cancer Net, a branch of the National Cancer Institute reviewed more than sixteen human studies using mistletoe to treat cancer.  Only a few studies reported statistically significant positive results.  The positive results included reduced tumor size, increased survival, recovery of blood counts and improved quality of life.  Mistletoe is not approved for use in the U.S. and will not be until further research has proven the efficacy of mistletoe in treating cancer.

What is the potential risk or harm of mistletoe?  Pharmaceutical grade mistletoe extract has minimal side effects but allergic reactions have been reported.  Symptoms included anaphylactic reactions, chills, fever, headache and irregular heart rate.  Elevation in body temperature and wheal formation at the site of administration are considered signs of immune system stimulation and are part of the normal therapeutic process. Eating mistletoe is highly toxic, especially to infants and children.  Patients on any type of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor antidepressants should not take mistletoe because of a risk of tyramine crisis.  This product should only be used under the supervision of a health care provider.

How much does mistletoe treatment cost?  Mistletoe can be obtained in Europe and less easily in the U.S.  Treatments are available in Germany for $160 (U.S.) per day.  In the U.S., some patients may be eligible for enrollment in clinical trials.

Source:  UC San Diego Medical Center

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