Immunological and Quality-of-Life Profiles in Women with Breast Cancer: Complementary versus Conventional Care

Complement Med Res. 2018;25(6):391-397. doi: 10.1159/000490049. Epub 2018 Aug 27.


Background: Previous studies showed that women with breast cancer treated in anthroposophic clinic versus conventional care had increased quality of life (QoL) parameters, fighting spirit, and anxiety coping. We have now analyzed immune and QoL factors in these 2 groups for possible differences during the first 6 months after admission, prompted by anthroposophic studies, including mistletoe extracts, showing beneficial immune system effects.

Patients and methods: Fourteen immunological variables, including leukocyte count, lymphocyte count, activated T cells (CD4+ and CD8+), NK cells, B cells, IL1β, IL6, IL10, and oxytocin, were longitudinally analyzed in both groups (n = 2 × 26). A panel of QoL parameters were analyzed using 3 different instruments. Statistical evaluation included that each patient was its own control.

Results: Cytotoxic CD8+ T cell frequency (percent of lymphocytes analyzed by flow-cytometry) significantly decreased over time in the anthroposophic group versus the conventional group (repeated measures ANOVA, p = 0.05). No major differences were observed in other immunological parameters, whereas QoL variables, anxiety decreased and physical symptoms increased/improved significantly in the anthroposophic group (p = 0.04 and p = 0.05, respectively).

Conclusion: Overall, women with breast cancer in anthroposophic or conventional therapy did not differ in their immune profiles over time, with exception of decreased cytotoxic T cells in the anthroposophic group. Improvement in physical symptoms along with less anxiety in this group may have influenced the brain-immune axis resulting in lower frequency of CD8+ T cells, a feature associated with less aggressive cancer stages. To evaluate whether this observation is associated with good or bad prognosis, further detailed analyses of memory and naïve CD8+ T cells at tumor site and in blood circulation are essential.

Keywords: Anthroposophical care; Anxiety; Breast cancer treatment; Complementary medicine; Cytotoxic CD8+ T cells; Immunology; Physical symptoms; Tumor immunity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Cell Count
  • Complementary Therapies / standards*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin / blood
  • Quality of Life


  • Cytokines
  • Oxytocin