Mistletoe for Cancer? Maybe Not
Mistletoe Extract May Be Harmful, British Doctors Say
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
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
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.