Integrating anthroposophic therapies can reduce patient suffering and improve long-term prospects in cancer care
A cancer diagnosis is a difficult, fear-inducing prospect for any patient. Fortunately, there are many effective treatment options for cancer, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.
Unfortunately, managing cancer means coping with not only the disease, but also its side-effects – many of which may be caused by the treatments themselves. These include cancer-related fatigue (CRF), weight loss, insomnia and other sleep difficulties, cognitive dysfunction, and distress.
The anthroposophic approach to cancer care is integrative, using both conventional treatments such as chemotherapy in conjunction with anthroposophic treatments designed to ease the patient’s suffering and address the important emotional and spiritual impact of the cancer.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefit of integrative cancer care: for example, the Society for Integrative Oncology has issued evidence guidelines on integrative therapies for specific indications during and after breast cancer treatment, including anxiety/stress, depression/mood disorders, fatigue, quality of life/physical functioning, chemotherapy‐induced nausea and vomiting, lymphedema, chemotherapy‐induced peripheral neuropathy, pain, and sleep disturbance.
IVAA’s Position on Oncology
The IVAA believes that integrative approaches to cancer care can alleviate suffering and improve health outcomes. In particular, use of Viscum album extracts are a promising therapy. IVAA therefore calls on policy makers to:
- Encourage integration of anthroposophic therapies in cancer care
- Encourage more widespread use of Viscum album extract to improve quality of life during cancer care
- Support needed further clinical research into the efficacy of anthroposophic treatments in improving health outcomes in oncology
- Anthroposophic therapies in cancer care
Anthroposophic therapies in cancer care
Anthroposophic medical practitioners use several different forms of treatment in oncology practice.
The most widely-recognised is Viscum album, or mistletoe, extract. A great number of studies support the clinical efficacy of this herbal remedy to reduce side effects, relieve symptoms such as fatigue and nausea, and improve survival rates.
Systematic reviews of Viscum album extract use in cancer found improvements in quality of life and tolerability of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. A 2013 randomized clinical trial found a survival benefit for patients with advanced pancreas cancer and a 2018 observational study found increases survival in non-small cell lung cancer under Viscum album treatment.
Other anthroposophic approaches to cancer care include anthroposophic medicinal products; psychological counselling; anthroposophic nursing applications such as compresses; arts therapy; Eurythmy therapy (a movement therapy); and body therapies such as Rhythmic Massage.
In general, evidence demonstrates a powerful potential for anthroposophic medicinal approaches in cancer care, though further clinical study is needed.
Further Reading on Anthroposophic Medicine and Oncology
- Goetheanum Medical Section page on cancer care
- www.mistletoe-therapy.org, further information on mistletoe therapy
- GS Kienle, et al., Individualized Integrative Cancer Care in Anthroposophic Medicine: A Qualitative Study of the Concepts and Procedures of Expert Doctors. Integr Cancer Ther. 2016 Dec;15(4):478-494.
- GS Kienle, et al. Influence of Viscum album L (European Mistletoe) Extracts on Quality of Life in Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Studies. Integr Cancer Ther. 2010, 9 (2), 142–157.
- W Tröger, et al., Viscum album [L.] extract therapy in patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer: a randomised clinical trial on overall survival. Eur J Cancer. 2013 Dec;49(18):3788-97
- W Tröger, et al., Quality of life of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer during treatment with mistletoe: a randomized controlled trial. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014 Jul 21;111(29-30):493-502
- F Schad, et al., Overall survival of stage IV non-small cell lung cancer patients treated with Viscum album L. in addition to chemotherapy, a real-world observational multicenter analysis. PLOS ONE. 2018, 13(8): e0203058
- H Greenlee, et al., Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence‐based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017, 67: 194-232