This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of laetrile as a treatment for people with cancer. The summary includes a history of laetrile research, a review of laboratory studies, the results of clinical trials, and possible side effects of laetrile use.
This summary contains the following key information:
- Laetrile is another name for the chemical amygdalin, which is found in the pits of many fruits and in numerous plants.
- Cyanide is thought to be the main anticancer component of laetrile.
- Laetrile was first used as a cancer treatment in Russia in 1845, and in the United States in the 1920s.
- Laetrile has shown little anticancer activity in animal studies and no anticancer activity in human clinical trials.
- The side effects associated with laetrile toxicity mirror the symptoms of cyanide poisoning, including liver damage, difficulty walking (caused by damaged nerves), fever, coma, and death.
- Laetrile is not approved for use in the United States.
- Inappropriate advertisement of laetrile as a cancer treatment has resulted in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation that culminated in charges and conviction of one distributor.
Many of the medical and scientific terms used in this summary are hypertext linked (at first use in each section) to the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, which is oriented toward nonexperts. When a linked term is clicked, a definition will appear in a separate window.
Reference citations in some PDQ CAM information summaries may include links to external Web sites that are operated by individuals or organizations for the purpose of marketing or advocating the use of specific treatments or products. These reference citations are included for informational purposes only. Their inclusion should not be viewed as an endorsement of the content of the Web sites, or of any treatment or product, by the PDQ Cancer CAM Editorial Board or the National Cancer Institute.