Intended for healthcare professionals


Mistletoe as a treatment for cancer

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1282
  1. Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine (
  1. 1Department of Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Exeter EX2 4NT

    Has no proved benefit, and can cause harm

    Most doctors in the United Kingdom will be surprised to learn from a case reported in this week's BMJ of a use for mistletoe (Viscum album) that has nothing to do with Christmas.1 Some patients with cancer inject themselves with extract of mistletoe in the hope of improving their condition. In continental Europe, at least 30 different mistletoe preparations are available. In Europe, most cancer patients use such extracts, at a total expense of about £30m (€45m; $59m) each year,2 and in Germany the insurance system pays for this treatment.

    A Google search (20 November 2006) showed that 145 000 websites promote or mention mistletoe as a treatment for cancer. This much publicity may mean that many cancer patients in the UK will try mistletoe in the future or ask their doctor about it. It is therefore timely to discuss the value …

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