“Mistletoe preparations are among the most frequently used medicines in complementary cancer care.”
Ita Wegman’s pioneering fight for life and against cancer
The physician Ita Wegman played a pioneering role in the development of mistletoe therapy: the treatment she developed has significantly improved the lives of countless cancer patients.
In the early twentieth century surgical techniques were not as advanced as today and radiological treatment had many undesirable side-effects. Chemotherapy, as a third “weapon” against malignant tumours, was as yet unknown.
At that time Ita Wegman – who was born on Java and had moved to Holland at the age of 18 where she trained as a physiotherapist – relocated to Zurich in order to study medicine there: in Switzerland women already had access to medical schools at the time. Once she had finished her general medical studies, Ita Wegman specialized in gynaecology. The suffering of cancer patients moved her deeply and inspired her to make their treatment a central aspect of her medical practice right from the start.
«There is always improvement»
In 1917 Ita Wegman put Rudolf Steiner’s indications regarding the use of mistletoe in cancer care into practice by commissioning the Zurich pharmacist Dr Adolf Hauser to produce a first preparation from apple mistletoe. When, on 1 July 1917, she opened her first medical practice in Gemeindestrasse 27, the new mistletoe preparation was available for injection. She treated the first patients in the same month. This is how, a hundred years ago, anthroposophic oncological mistletoe therapy started in Ita Wegman’s practice in Zurich.
With her very first patients, who came to her with very unfavourable prognoses from the Zurich Women’s Hospital, she was able to achieve astonishing results using the new mistletoe therapy. Although she did not effect “absolutely clear-cut healings” Ita Wegman observed in many cases that the tumours were reduced in size. “The patients’ subjective wellbeing always improves,” she pointed out, “sleeplessness and exhaustion gradually decrease and the patients’ will to live is reignited.” This effect of mistletoe on their general condition was also observed in patients with far advanced cancer. They had less pain and could therefore reduce their pain relief medication.
The dissemination of the mistletoe impulse through Ita Wegman
After these encouraging first results the further development of the new cancer therapy remained a central aspect of her work when Ita Wegman founded the Clinical-Therapeutic Institute in Arlesheim in 1921.
In 1935 Ita Wegman founded the Association for Cancer Research in Arlesheim together with the dedicated Swiss physician Werner Kälin, his wife Lina and Rudolf Hauschka. Its impact gathered further momentum after World War II with the foundation of the Hiscia Research Institute (1949) and the Lucas Clinic (1963), the first anthroposophic hospital in the world to specialize in oncology. Both institutions focused exclusively on the research, development and application of mistletoe therapy. Their work created the foundation for mistletoe preparations becoming one of the most frequently used medicines in complementary cancer care in Switzerland and Germany.
Mistletoe therapies instil courage
The development of mistletoe injections over the last hundred years illustrates how fruitful this new therapy has been. Academic science was inspired early on by the first results achieved in the anthroposophic hospital and began to investigate the antitumoural effect of mistletoe therapy. A veritable flood of scientific publications followed as a result of this interest. More recently, a number of high-quality scientific trials have confirmed that mistletoe therapy can improve quality of life, lessen the side-effects of conventional therapies, reduce tumour size and prolong life.
New healing forces
Ita Wegman’s achievements are not restricted to her courageous pioneering, promoting, development and application of mistletoe therapy. She also helped to develop Anthroposophic Medicine and, in doing so, created a comprehensive framework for the treatment of cancer. She not only founded the first anthroposophic hospital in Arlesheim but also other hospitals, therapy centres and medical practices as well as special needs institutions and enterprises for the production and distribution of anthroposophic medicines.
It was Ita Wegman’s aim to establish and teach the basic concepts of a new medicine. She knew that cancer treatment could not be restricted to combatting “malignant” tumour cells, but that it needed to draw on the health-giving, harmonizing powers of the whole organism.
Ita Wegman inspired and worked with many other physicians, medical students, pharmacists, nurses, special needs teachers, therapists, nutritionists and researchers. She provided professional development and organized training courses for nurses and specialist and public conferences. She was in close contact with experts and patients in Switzerland, France, Holland, England, Iceland, the United States etc. Her great will power and organizational gift were evident in these wide-ranging activities. Ita Wegman planted the seeds from which mistletoe therapy could grow and benefit the wider public.
Dr. sc. nat. Konrad Urech
Peter Selg (2016) Mensch und Mistel, Salumed-Verlag, Berlin.