Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Mistletoe for Cancer? Maybe Not

Mistletoe Extract May Be Harmful, British Doctors Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 21, 2006 -- Taking mistletoe for cancermay be ineffective and possibly harmful, British doctors report.

"I recommend mistletoe as a Christmas decoration and for kissing under, but not as an anticancer drug," writes Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCPEd, in BMJ (formerly called British Medical Journal).

Ernst directs the complementary medicine department at the University of Exeter and Plymouth's medical school in England.

He points out that in Europe many cancer patients take mistletoe preparations and that Germany's insurance system covers mistletoe treatment.

In the U.S., the FDA hasn't approved any mistletoe cancer drugs.

Mistletoe studies have yielded mixed results and have often been "methodologically weak," Ernst says.

BMJ includes a report about a woman in Wales with inflammation under the skin where she had given herself mistletoe extract injections over the past year.

The 61-year-old woman previously had a type of cancer called lymphomalymphoma. With her cancer in remission, she began giving herself three weekly injections of mistletoe extract in her belly.

Ten months later, she had a breast tumor surgically removed. At a follow-up appointment, she complained that she had a mass in her abdomen.

Doctors removed the abdominal mass, which wasn't cancerous.

The mistletoe extract may have caused inflammation that led to the mass, which was located near the injection site, write University Hospital of Wales' Alison Finall and colleagues.

Finall's team didn't prove the mistletoe extract caused the mass; and they don't link the mistletoe extract to the woman's breast tumor. They didn't study mistletoe extract in any other patients.

The Welsh group calls for "rigorous" trials to get conclusive data about mistletoe as a treatment for cancer.

Such a trial may already be under way.

In the U.S., the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is studying mistletoe's use with a chemotherapy drug in treating certain advanced cancers.

Those studies aren't focusing on the mistletoe used to deck the halls during the holidays.

Instead, the NCCAM is studying European mistletoe, a different species that has been used for centuries as a remedy for a wide variety of health problems, according to the NCCAM's web site.

Meanwhile, Finall and colleagues urge patients to tell their doctor about any use of complementary treatments.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas