Integrative Cancer Treatment – Viscum Album – (Iscador)

MistletoeIn modern cancer therapy not only are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy important.  Increasingly medical research is being directed towards stimulating the body’s own defence system.  Modern oncology is now utilising immunomodulating drugs to stimulate a patient’s own innate defences to help fight cancer (IMiDS).  Immunomodulation however is not a new concept.  In 1917 Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) suggested that strengthening the immune system was critical for an individual suffering from cancer.  Dr Steiner advised physicians of the day to investigate the qualities of the plant mistletoe to achieve this.

Mistletoe is a traditional European remedy that has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years.  The Celts believed mistletoe to have magical properties of fertility and the Druid’s brewed the plant to create a remedy for strength and healing.  In the past protective amulets and rosary’s were made of mistletoe and the plant continues to be hung in many doorways at winter solstice to confer health and fertility.  In the Twelfth century Christian Monasteries utilised the plant to revitalise the life forces of the liver whilst in the Middle Ages many physician’s, including the great Paracelsus, prescribed mistletoe for a range of aliments including epilepsy, cramping, arthrosis and heart disease.

In 1921, following Dr Rudolf Steiner’s indications, a Dutch physician named Dr Ita Wegman (1876 – 1943) began the first modern treatment of cancer with Viscum Album (European Mistletoe).  Dr Wegman noted immediate improvements in patient fatigue levels, pain levels and insomnia.  Based on her observations Dr Wegman believed Viscum Album had an activating effect on the immune system of patients leading to improved mood and new enthusiasm for life. In 1938 in vitro research conducted by E Koch confirmed that Viscum Album had anti-carcinogenic properties and in 1963 a dedicated hospital in Switzerland was established specialising in the treatment of cancer patients with mistletoe extracts.  In 1994 the ‘Society and Institute for Oncological Research’ was founded in Berlin where it coordinates clinical trials in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, South Africa and the Americas. The Institute is currently involved in over thirty research projects the majority of which concern the treatment of cancer with Viscum Album (Iscador). Thus far research has revealed amongst other things two groups of toxins in mistletoe: Viscotoxins and Lectins. Viscotoxins are concentrated in the periphery of the plant and have a cytolytic effect on cells, whereas lectins are concentrated towards the centre of the plant (haustorium) and have a cytostatic effect on cells.  In addition to these toxic effects mistletoe has been demonstrated to stimulate immunocompetent cells as evidenced by increased circulating levels of Natural Killer Cells (NK) and Antibody-Dependent Killer Cells (ADCC) following Iscador injections.  Vivisection studies have also revealed impressive reduction of tumour growths with associated increased survival rates in animal subjects.

Mistletoe therapy has now almost a century of medical use in modern cancer treatment.  As a preparation (Iscador) has traditionally been given by subcutaneous injection two to three times per week, however much higher doses are now being prescribed and trialled at European teaching hospitals (including Intravenous Iscador).  Today more than 40% of neoplasm patients in Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland utilize Iscador as an adjunct integrative treatment for cancer. Iscador is now established widely in Europe as a supplement to conventional cancer management with recent scientific literature reviews and meta-analysis revealing an association between Iscador treatment and better survival outcomes (1).

  1. Ostermann T1, Raak C, Büssing A.: Survival of cancer patients treated with mistletoe extract (Iscador): a systematic literature review. BMC Cancer. 2009 Dec 18;9:451. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-9-451.