Mistletoe therapy in pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and inaccessible cancers. Often, it is not discovered until it has reached an advanced stage when surgery is difficult if not impossible.

Patients with later stage pancreatic cancer have an average life expectancy of only a few months. The known chemotherapies can prolong survival by several months but have strong side effects which often cause patients to discontinue the therapy prematurely. Patients typically complain about severe pain, weakness, tiredness and weight loss.  Therapeutic measures at this stage aim to give patients the best quality of life. 

The mistletoe’s life forces help to improve the general condition of patients with pancreatic cancer. © Jürg Buess

Impressive clinical trial

With this in mind a clinical trial was carried out a few years ago that set out to assess the influence of mistletoe therapy on quality of life and overall survival.

Included in this trial were patients with inoperable pancreatic tumours for whom chemotherapy was no longer an option. All patients received conventional, optimally supporting therapy, mainly for pain relief. Half the patients (randomly selected) also received oak mistletoe preparations.

Remarkable QoL improvement

The results were striking and much clearer than expected. Mistletoe therapy achieved an immense improvement in quality of life. While tiredness, exhaustion, sleeping problems, loss of appetite and pain continued to increase in the control group, the opposite was the case in the group treated with mistletoe: pain levels were reduced to such an extent that two thirds of the patients no longer needed pain relief. In the control group, on the other hand, all patients continued to rely on pain medication.

In the patients treated with mistletoe tiredness and exhaustion improved to such an extent that most patients were able to return to everyday activities and participate in their normal social life. Appetite and digestive functions improved to an entirely unexpected degree with patients even putting on weight again – a result never observed before in any clinical trial involving patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. The survival time was doubled in the group treated with mistletoe.

Success by combining the two forms of therapy

Because similar results were observed in previous trials, they can be considered reliable. Another trial in Germany examined the effects of mistletoe therapy on patients whose diagnosis enabled them to have chemotherapy. The best results by far were observed in patients who received a combination of chemotherapy and mistletoe therapy.

The archetype of Integrative Medicine

Since its foundation a hundred years ago Anthroposophic Medicine has had as its main aim the extension of conventional medicine by complementary measures. It is the archetype of what is known today as Integrative Medicine in that it brings together natural-scientific and complementary approaches for the benefit of the patients.

Dr. rer. nat. Wilfried Tröger

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Anthroposophic Medicine at Bern University Hospital, Switzerland

While mistletoe therapy is typically used in surgeries and hospitals with an anthroposophic orientation, it is also applied in institutions with a primarily mainstream medical approach, such as for instance the Department of Anthroposophically Extended Medicine at Bern University. 

Prof. Dr. med. Ursula Wolf.

Outpatients and inpatients are seen and treated there by Professor Ursula Wolf, MD, and her team of assistant physicians on the premises of Bern university hospital (the Inselspital), where the treatments of Anthroposophic Medicine, including mistletoe therapy, are available to them. Most of the outpatients are referred for anthroposophically based therapies by the Inselspital or other hospitals and surgeries.

This means that many patients benefit from mistletoe and other anthroposophically based therapies. Because of the growing demand for these therapies, consultation hours for outpatients in the Inselspital have now been extended to include all working days.

Communication and cooperation between the mainstream oncological departments and surgeries and Dr Wolf and her team are good. Mainstream oncologists increasingly take note of the improvements in the patients’ quality of life and general condition and the reduction of the side-effects of chemo- and radiotherapy through mistletoe therapy.

Prof. Dr. med. Ursula Wolf