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Mistletoe Extracts (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 04/23/2014

Overview

This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of mistletoe as a treatment for people with cancer. The summary includes a brief history of mistletoe research, the results of clinical trials, and possible side effects of mistletoe use.

This summary contains the following key information:

  • Mistletoe is a semiparasitic plant that has been used for centuries to treat numerous human ailments.

  • Mistletoe is used commonly in Europe, where a variety of different extracts are manufactured and marketed as injectable prescription drugs. These injectable drugs are not available commercially in the United States and are not approved as a treatment for people with cancer.

  • Mistletoe is one of the most widely studied CAM therapies for cancer. In certain European countries, the preparations made from European mistletoe (Viscum album, Loranthaceae) are among the most prescribed drugs offered to cancer patients.[1]

  • Although mistletoe plants and berries are considered poisonous to humans, few serious side effects have been associated with mistletoe extract use.

  • The use of mistletoe as a treatment for people with cancer has been investigated in clinical studies. Reports of improved survival and/or quality of life have been common, but nearly all of the studies had major weaknesses that raise doubts about the reliability of the findings.

  • At present, the use of mistletoe cannot be recommended outside the context of well-designed clinical trials. Such trials will be valuable to determine more clearly whether mistletoe can be useful in the treatment of specific subsets of cancer patients.

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.

References
  1. Horneber MA, Bueschel G, Huber R, et al.: Mistletoe therapy in oncology. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD003297, 2008.  [PUBMED Abstract]