This article was originally published by the National Cancer Institute here: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/mistletoe-pdq

Overview

Questions and Answers About Mistletoe

  1. What is mistletoe?Mistletoe is a semiparasitic plant that grows on trees, such as apple, oak, maple, elm, pine, and birch. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat medical conditions such as epilepsy, hypertension, headaches, menopausal symptoms, infertility, arthritis, and rheumatism. Mistletoe is one of the most widely studied complementary and alternative medicine therapies for cancer. In Europe, mistletoe extracts are among the most prescribed therapies for cancer patients.Mistletoe products vary, depending on the following factors:
    • The type of host tree on which the mistletoe grows.
    • The species of mistletoe.
    • The type of extract used and if it is made with homeopathic methods.
    • The time of year the plant is picked.
    • The company that makes the product.
    Mistletoe extracts are made in water-based solutions or solutions of water and alcohol. Mistletoe products may be named according to the type of tree on which the plant grows. For example, IscadorM is from apple trees, IscadorP comes from pine trees, IscadorQu is from oak trees, and IscadorU comes from elm trees.
  2. How are mistletoe extracts given?Mistletoe extracts are usually given by an injection under the skin (subcutaneous). Less common ways to give mistletoe include by mouth, into a vein (intravenous or IV), into the pleural cavity, or into a tumor.
  3. What laboratory or animal studies have been done using mistletoe extracts?In laboratory studies, tumor cells are used to test a substance to find out if it is likely to have any anticancer effects. In animal studies, tests are done to see if a drug, procedure, or treatment is safe and effective in animals. Laboratory and animal studies are done before a substance is tested in people. Laboratory and animal studies have tested the effects of mistletoe extracts in laboratory experiments. See the Laboratory/Animal/Preclinical Studies section of the health professional version on Mistletoe Extracts for information on laboratory and animal studies done using mistletoe extracts.
  4. Have any studies of mistletoe extracts been done in people? Most clinical trials using mistletoe extracts to treat cancer have been done in Europe. Many studies use mistletoe as adjuvant therapy in patients with cancer. Although these trials have reported mistletoe extracts to be effective, weaknesses have been reported.
    • Size of trial.
    • Lack of patient information.
    • Lack of dose information.
    • Study design.
    Findings from studies with large numbers of patients reported the following:In 2002, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) enrolled patients in a phase I clinical trial of a mistletoe extract and gemcitabine in patients with advanced solid tumors. This combination showed low toxicity and no botanicaldrug interactions were reported.Reviews of combined clinical trialsReviews have looked at the effects of mistletoe on quality of life, survival, and symptom relief in different types of cancer: