The Wellness Library

Mistletoe and Its Supporting Role in Cancer Care

by | Dec 14, 2023 | Cancer Care

A Multifaceted Herb With Global Uses

Did you know that mistletoe can actually play a role in cancer care? While mistletoe may bring to mind festive holiday traditions, it holds an entirely different significance in the realm of medicine—particularly as a supportive therapy for cancer care. So, let’s unwrap the mystery and discover what this intriguing plant has to offer!

Mistletoe is a fascinating semi-parasitic plant that attaches itself to the above-ground parts of various trees. Mistletoe infiltrates and grows alongside its host tree, and the extracts made from it are occasionally named after the type of tree it was harvested from. There are various species, each associated with the tree it grows on. When used medicinally, it is formulated as an extract. Many aspects can affect the extract made from mistletoe—even the time of year it is harvested!

Mistletoe extract has been used for centuries in different parts of the world for a variety of purposes. For years, mistletoe extract has been used in medicine for a variety of ailments such as headaches, arthritis, menopausal symptoms, and much more. It has also been employed to treat conditions such as hypertension and rheumatic joint diseases in many regions.

The Role of Mistletoe Extract in Cancer Care

Mistletoe is showing potential for cancer care—and is deemed useful particularly because of its immune-modulating properties.

A well-known use of mistletoe is as an adjunct to cancer care, meaning it is supplementary to conventional cancer treatments. Research is showing positive effects from mistletoe, such as allowing patients to experience fewer adverse events and better symptom relief. Mistletoe extract is also commonly used in Europe, where it is often a type of adjuvant therapy (cancer care that lowers the risk of recurrence).

It’s essential to note that mistletoe therapy is typically reserved for late-stage and terminal cancer patients when other treatment options have been exhausted. However, complementary therapies using mistletoe are in demand and always being researched further!

RELATED: Integrative Cancer Care: Enhancing Healing and Well-Being

European mistletoe extract for supportive cancer care

Unpacking Mistletoe’s Immune-Boosting Powers

Mistletoe extract acts as an immune modulator, meaning it can influence the way our immune system functions. It is thought to help the immune system mount a more effective response against cancer cells and reduce inflammation. Because of this, it is now widely studied for usage as complementary medicine in cancer care!

Research with mistletoe has shown promising results in cancer care, such as with breast cancer—where mistletoe therapy is improving quality of life, remission rates, and reducing adverse reactions to conventional treatments. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics found that breast cancer patients receiving mistletoe therapy alongside conventional treatments experienced a 20% increase in survival time compared to those who didn’t receive mistletoe therapy. 

RELATED: Breast Cancer + Environmental Toxicity: Could What You’re Exposed to Impact Your Risk?

Those with pancreatic cancer may see some hope with mistletoe extract, too. Pancreatic cancer is notoriously challenging to treat, but mistletoe therapy has shown promise. Patients have reported significant improvements in pain management, appetite restoration, alleviation of insomnia, and overall survival time while using mistletoe therapy alongside their conventional treatments. 

Overall, the effects of using mistletoe extract for different cancer types is still being researched, but you can find even more information about these studies through Cancer.gov.

MIMC provider speaking with a patient

Contraindications and Consultation

While mistletoe extract offers hope, it’s important to be aware of its limitations or possible side effects. One potential side effect of immune modulation is fever, and in severe cases, swelling in the brain can occur. For this reason, mistletoe therapy is avoided if there are brain metastases present. Regular imaging via CT scan, PET scan, or MRI is crucial to assess eligibility for mistletoe therapy and to monitor tumor size or progression.

Before embarking on a journey with mistletoe therapy, it’s imperative to consult with a medical oncologist. Mistletoe therapy is not suitable for pregnant patients, and only a qualified medical professional can determine if this therapy is the right fit for an individual’s unique situation. 

Additionally, mistletoe can be found in a variety of formats or in many different products, but should only be pursued for medicinal purposes when prescribed and administered by a professional.

In closing, mistletoe is a plant with significant potential in cancer care. Its immune-modulating properties may offer hope to late-stage and terminal cancer patients. However, research is still being conducted for the possibilities of mistletoe therapy, so it’s essential to navigate this path under the guidance of a knowledgeable medical team. 

Remember: Knowledge is power! Being informed about your treatment options empowers you to make the best decisions for your health. If you or a loved one are considering mistletoe therapy, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for more information and guidance. Here’s to the pursuit of hope and healing on your journey to wellness!

RELATED: Learn More About Integrative Medicine in Cancer Care – Dr. Ruch’s AMA

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