Mistletoe Therapy

The most important questions and answers on mistletoe therapy

This page provides you with a summary of the most important questions and answers concerning the treatment of cancer with mistletoe extracts. Please note that many of the topics discussed on this page are still controversial. The answers are based on the clinical and practical experience of physicians who are experienced in the use of mistletoe therapy. If the statements presented here deviate from what your physician has advised you we suggest that you consult your physician on this. 

The whens and hows of mistletoe therapy

When is it best to start a mistletoe therapy?

Mistletoe therapy can start at any time. The most favorable point in time in our opinion is immediately after diagnosis and prior to surgery if this is planned. Since mistletoe therapy stimulates the immune system it can strengthen the patient’s defenses, thus, as we believe, preparing the patient in the best possible way for the stress which the operation puts on the organism. However, it is also possible to start at a later time.

Is it possible to take mistletoe therapy alongside chemo and radiation therapy?

Yes – we even recommend this, since mistletoe can ease the undesirable effects associated with chemo or radiation therapy. However, care should be taken to apply the syringe outside the irradiated skin area, since this could lead to serious inflammation of the skin.

Does it make sense to start mistletoe therapy when metastases have already developed?

Yes. It can improve the patient’s quality of life and strengthen the organism. Patients have found that their appetite returns and they stop losing weight while at the same time their sleep improves and their spirits revive. Mistletoe may even slow down the progress of cancer.

Is mistletoe also an option in the treatment of lymphoma?

There is no clear “yes” or “no” to this question. Oncologists who are critical of mistletoe therapy tend to advise patients with lymphoma against taking mistletoe therapy. Their main concern is that mistletoe therapy could stimulate the growth of lymphoma rather than inhibit it. This fear is based on theoretical assumptions derived from basic research. As yet these fears have not been confirmed either in practice or through clinical studies. Negative effects of mistletoe therapy in lymphoma disease have not been documented to date; on the contrary: positive experiences are seen to predominate. Mistletoe treatment is well tolerated even when taken over several years and can have a favorable influence on the course of the disease. However, having a physician with ample experience in mistletoe therapy is particularly important with this type of tumor because the dose must be adjusted very carefully according to the clinical findings and the patient’s condition.

How long does the treatment last?

Mistletoe therapy is in principle a long-term form of treatment. It is usually applied for several years, the aim being to strengthen the organism. In the individual case its duration will depend on how the disease develops and how the organism responds to the therapy.

Is it necessary to monitor blood count?

In most cases blood count is determined at the start of mistletoe therapy and then monitored at long intervals over the course of treatment. These laboratory check-ups are not imperative however. It is up to the individual physician to decide on the basis of the patient’s situation which examinations are required.

Does mistletoe therapy have an influence on tumor markers? 

Yes, but there is no general answer to this question. Tumor markers change quite generally depending on how the disease develops. If the patient’s condition improves or if the tumor regresses under mistletoe therapy, this is usually associated with a decrease in tumor markers.

Does mistletoe interfere with the action of other drugs?

No, interactions with other drugs are not known to date. Whether mistletoe therapy is compatible with other biological cancer therapies (e.g. immune modulating substances such as thymus extract) has been little researched to date. It is therefore advisable to entrust such combined treatments to physicians with the necessary experience.

Can mistletoe therapy alleviate pain?

Mistletoe therapy can make it possible to reduce the dose of painkillers. The intensity of pain experienced by a patient depends on his general condition and strength. As his condition improves and his strength returns he will also find that his pain lessens.

Which mistletoe preparation is the right one?

The most commonly considered aspects in selecting a mistletoe extract are tumor type and stage, the physician’s personal experience, the situation of the individual patient and above all what the mistletoe therapy is intended to achieve. Together these factors form the physician’s basis for determining which mistletoe fits best. Patients who respond very sensitively to drugs should initially receive a very low-dosed mistletoe preparation. Some manufacturers offer special extract series with very low initial concentrations for such cases.

Why are so many physicians opposed to mistletoe therapy?

Many physicians view mistletoe therapy as unscientific. However, as the information on this website demonstrates, this view is not tenable. With more than 100 clinical studies of different quality and several hundred preclinical laboratory studies dedicated to its use mistletoe therapy is one of the scientifically most thoroughly researched methods of complementary medicine.

Can mistletoe promote tumor growth?

There is no foundation to the claim that mistletoe promotes tumor growth. To date, neither laboratory trials nor any of the more than 100 clinical studies have yielded evidence of mistletoe promoting tumor growth. This supposition originates from laboratory trials on cell lines that have since been refuted. Another source was a lecture held at an international cancer congress some years ago in which it was stated that mistletoe therapy could promote the development of brain metastases in skin cancer (malignant melanoma). Various scientific and general interest journals took up the idea and published these claims without entering into any further background investigation. When the study in question was finally published in 2004 (Kleeberg 2004) there was no mention in it of tumor promotion through mistletoe. On the contrary: an analysis of patient data at the Dermatological Clinic of Freiburg University has shown that mistletoe therapy in skin cancer can even have a favorable influence on the course of the disease, including survival, provided it is taken for more than a year and is performed with pine mistletoe extract (Augustin 2005).

On side-effects

Is the skin reddening an allergic reaction?

No, skin reddening around the point where the mistletoe extract was injected is a sign that the organism is responding to the therapy. This is a small local inflammation which shows that the immune system is responding.

The red area itches – does it come from an allergy?

No, not even an itching rash is an allergic sign. The itch can develop when the small local inflammation caused by the mistletoe extract recedes.

Isn’t fever caused by mistletoe dangerous?

No, on the contrary! Fever up to 100.4 °F is desirable because it enables the organism to regulate the body temperature. This ability is often impaired in cancer. Many cancer patients who tend to chill feel an agreeable warmth after receiving a mistletoe injection. Even when a mistletoe infusion leads to high fever (up to 103 °F) this is a desirable and wanted effect. It gives the organism a powerful stimulus to step up its immune defense. The fever will subside within six to eight hours. It is only in certain situations that one will aim for a response as strong as this, for example when the organism is no longer sufficiently responsive so that a skin injection of mistletoe is not strong enough to stimulate the immune system. Provoking high fever with mistletoe calls for accurate dosage and should only be entrusted to an experienced mistletoe therapist. After all, there would be no benefit in pushing a weak organism for a response that it is not actually capable of producing. This sort of over provocation would cause just the opposite of what is desired, i.e. weaken the organism rather than strengthening it.

On Injections

Do mistletoe preparations always have to be injected?

Usually yes. Mistletoe extract contains protein so that it would be digested and rendered ineffective if it was given as tablets. Children are sometimes given mistletoe drops because they are much better able to take up substances via the mucous membranes than adults are. This allows the active agents to enter the blood via the oral mucosa. In Germany there are no mistletoe drops that have been approved by the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. These preparations have to be ordered from England via an international pharmaceutical supplier (and are therefore not paid for by the German public health insurance).

Do the injections hurt?

No, the worst you might feel is a slight prick. The needles that are used for the injection are very fine and thin. Besides this the injection does not have to be applied at any particular place on the body, so that the patient can choose one where he or she is not so sensitive to pain. At first the injections should be given and demonstrated to the patient by a physician, a receptionist or (in hospitals) by a nurse. They have a lot of experience and know how to administer the injection so that it does not hurt as much.

Does it have to be the belly or thigh?

No, the injection can also be given at another place on the skin if this is more agreeable to the patient. The advantage of the belly and thigh is that they are easy to reach. The best choice is to apply the mistletoe injection close to the tumor. If this is not possible or if it causes additional pain, it is better to choose another place such as the belly, thigh or upper arm.

Small lumps have developed around the place of injection. What do they come from?

Probably the needle was injected too deep so that the mistletoe extract was deposited in the subcutaneous fatty tissue rather than in the epidermis where it should have been. Then the liquid cannot spread and instead produces hard and sometimes painful lumps. These lumps diminish within a few days, although it can take weeks for them to disappear completely.

Do I have to do the injection myself?

No, if you do not want to inject yourself, ask someone else to do it for you. Private-practice receptionists are also qualified to give mistletoe injections.

At what time of day should the injection be given?

If the intent is to stimulate the organism’s activity, the best time for giving an injection is while the body temperature is rising, i.e. in the morning (between 7 and 9 a.m.). If the intent is to utilize the warming effect of mistletoe the best time is when the body temperature is at its maximum, i.e. in the evening (between 5 and 6 p.m.). It is not advisable to constantly change between different times of day. Nevertheless, there is no general objection to changing the time of day after a certain period. It is important for the patient to rest for half an hour after the injection (i.e. in the morning, not to get up immediately after the injection).

What should be done when it is time for the next injection but the redness has not gone away yet?

Injections are not usually given twice at the same place in any case. Nevertheless, if the redness from the previous injection has not yet subsided it is advisable to wait —otherwise the old redness may become worse again, resulting in a serious and painful inflammatory reaction. Reddening that does not disappear within two days will normally be larger than two to four centimeters, indicating that either the dose of the mistletoe extract was too high or that the injection may have been administered incorrectly.