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Mistletoe for Pancreatic Cancer

Viscum Album is a kind of mistletoe that is native to many European and Asian countries. Members of the mistletoe family have been used as an “alternative” or complementary treatment for any number of maladies including pancreatic cancer (ductal adenocarcinoma of the pancreas). As we have mentioned before, the Pancreatica Blog appreciates alternative therapies for cancer of the pancreas that have been subjected to the scientific method. We like these studies as so many patients who we encounter seem to be interested in alternative or complementary therapy for their pancreatic cancer. It seems like a service to offer up information on ones in which serious study has been undertaken.

Mistletoe has been studied more scientifically for the past two decades for pancreatic cancer.  One of our Pancreatica Science Board members participated in a research study almost twenty years ago that found no substantive survival advantage of mistletoe in pancreatic cancer (yet interestingly, it appeared to demonstrate improved quality of life).  It seems as if it is mostly German researchers who have been exploring this area.

Troger and colleagues from Germany and Serbia published the results of their Phase III study involving 220 patients in the December 2013 issue of the European Journal of Cancer whereby the authors reviewed the effects of a dose escalating subcutaneously given regimen of Viscum album offered to patients with advanced and locally advanced adenocarcinoma of the pancreas VERSUS no antineoplastic therapy given for an evenly randomized control group.

The median overall survival in the mistletoe treated group was 4.8 months, and 2.7 months for the control group (p<0.0001).  There were no adverse side-effects due to the Viscum album noted.

This is intriguing of course. There are potential problems with the study including the Stages mix and selection bias. One cringes a bit that the control group did not receive standard of care chemotherapy. The survival advantage seems fairly small.  But it is a finding – and likely worthy of further inquiry.

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Dale O’Brien, MD