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 treatment options for cancer, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery to remove tumours, and others. 

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 traditional treatments such as chemotherapy in conjunction with anthroposophic treatments designed to ease the patient’s suffering and address the damaging emotional and spiritual impact of the cancer. 

Multiple studies have demonstrated the potential of integrated cancer care to reduce fatigue, to increase patient satisfaction and improve tolerance of treatment, and to improve quality of life. One review concluded it is "imperative that health professionals explore the use of [complementary and alternative medicine] with their cancer patients… and work towards an integrated model of health-care provision.”

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:

  1. Encourage integration of anthroposophic therapies in cancer care

  2. Encourage more widespread use of Viscum album extract to improve quality of life during cancer care

  3. Support needed further clinical research into the efficacy of anthroposophic treatments in improving health outcomes in oncology

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 adverse side effects, relieve symptoms such as fatigue and nausea, and improve survival rates. 

For example, a 2014 study of mistletoe treatment in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer found signifiant improvements in quality of life, including less pain, less loss of appetite, and less insomnia. And a systematic review of Viscum album extract use in treatment of breast and gynaecological cancers found statistically significant improvements in quality of life and tolerability of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.  A study of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer, found mistletoe treatment to be “particularly promising” in advanced cases, showing anti-tumour activity and low toxicity. 

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. There is evidence such integrative can lead to better quality of life. For example, in one study anthroposophic art therapy was deemed “worthy of further study in the treatment of cancer patients” who suffer from depression and/or fatigue during chemotherapy. 

In general, evidence demonstrates a powerful potential for anthroposophic medicinal approaches in cancer care, but further clinical study is needed.