Mistletoe, the viscum album plant used to make the Iscador extract, is often used as an alternative secondary treatment for breast cancer in Europe. Though this treatment is not provided here in the United States, there is one famous American case of breast cancer treatment with mistletoe—celebrity Suzanne Somers used this treatment. There are not many published clinical results on the use of mistletoe as a cancer treatment, but it has received a great deal of publicity because of its unlikely relationship to medical science.
What Is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a leafy, flowering vine used as decoration during the holidays. It is usually hung over the doorway to draw a kiss from someone during a Christmas party. The treatment known as Iscador, created from the European species viscum mali (the mistletoe from apple trees), is most commonly used as a cancer treatment in female patients, usually for breast cancer. This species differs slightly from the American species of mistletoe. It is a semi-parasitic plant that lives symbiotically among tree species, including oak, pine, elm and apple. Its extracts have been used for centuries in Europe to treat acute and chronic health conditions. Since about the 1920s, it has been used as an alternative cancer treatment in Europe during the development of anthroposophy, a modern spiritual science being applied to medicine.
How Is Mistletoe Used?
Mistletoe leaves and berries are potentially poisonous. Therefore, because Iscador extract is made from the entire plant, it must be handled and administered carefully. The extraction process begins with the grinding of the entire mistletoe plant. The plant is then soaked in water, fermented and finally filtered to produce the Iscador extract. Mistletoe treatment is commonly administered by injection, just under the skin. As daily treatment progresses, more concentrated Iscador extractions are administered. Side effects may include redness or welling at the injection site and a possible fever, though the fever may play a positive role in the benefits of Iscador.
Medical Effects of Mistletoe
Clinical research has been extensively practiced for years on the effects of mistletoe and its medical benefits, but the benefits of Iscador in controlled groups of cancer patients is still minimal. In the United States, very few approved clinical studies using mistletoe have actually been performed, as mistletoe is closely restricted because of its severe toxicity. Most published results are anecdotal, including observations and highly publicized stories like that of Suzanne Somers. However, European studies of the cancer treatment benefits of Iscador have been completed for decades. Thousands of cancer patients have experienced a relevant prolonging of life and increase in quality of life after receiving Iscador treatments. These results in Europe and the anecdotal benefits of mistletoe as a secondary cancer treatment may someday lead to its acceptance as a controlled cancer treatment method in the United States.
Resources (Further Reading)