Laetrile (Amygdalin) as Alternative Cancer Therapy

Facts on Laetrile (Amygdalin) as Alternative Cancer Treatment

  • Laetrile is another name for amygdalin. Amygdalin is found in the pits of many fruits, raw nuts, and plants.
  • Laetrile is given by mouth as a pill or by intravenous injection.
  • Laetrile has shown little anticancer effect in clinical studies.
  • Laetrile is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How Is Laetrile Given?

Laetrile is given by mouth (orally) as a pill. It can also be given by injection into a vein (intravenous) or muscle (intramuscular). Laetrile is commonly given intravenously at first, then orally as maintenance therapy (treatment given to help extend the benefit of previous therapy).

Laetrile treatments are given in Mexico and some U.S. clinics. Sometimes laetrile is given in combination with a metabolic therapy program (special diet, high-dose vitamins, and pancreatic enzymes).

Have Any Laboratory or Animal Studies Been Done Using Laetrile?

In laboratory studies, tumor cells are used to test a substance to find out if it is likely to have any anticancer effects. In animal studies, tests are done to see if a drug, procedure, or treatment is safe and effective in animals. Laboratory and animal studies are done before a substance is tested in people. Laboratory and animal studies have tested the effects of laetrile in laboratory experiments.

Have Any Studies of Laetrile Been Done in People?

No controlled clinical trials (trials that compare groups of patients who receive the new treatment to groups who do not) of laetrile have been reported. Anecdotal reports and case reports have not shown laetrile to be an effective treatment for cancer.

Benzaldehyde, which is made when laetrile is broken down by the body, has been tested for anticancer activity in people. In two clinical series, patients with advanced cancer who had not responded to standard therapy were treated with benzaldehyde. Some patients had a complete response, while some had a decrease in tumor size. The response to benzaldehyde only lasted during treatment. Most of the patients had been treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

The National Cancer Institute requested case reports from practitioners who believed their patients were helped by treatment with laetrile. An expert panel concluded that 2 of 67 patients had complete responses and 4 had a decrease in tumor size.

Findings from 2 clinical trials conducted by the National Cancer Institute reported the following:

  • A phase I study tested doses, schedules, and ways to give amygdalin in 6 cancer patients. Researchers found that amygdalin caused very few side effects at the prescribed doses when given by mouth or intravenously. Two patients who ate raw almonds while taking amygdalin had side effects.
  • A phase II study with 175 patients looked at what types of cancer might benefit from treatment with amygdalin. Most of the patients in this study had breast, colon, or lung cancer. In about half of the patients, cancer had grown by the end of the treatment. Cancer had grown in all patients 7 months after treatment ended. Patients reported improved symptoms, such as the ability to work or do other activities. These improvements did not last after treatment ended.

Have Any Side Effects or Risks Been Reported from Laetrile?

The side effects of laetrile treatment include the following:

The side effects of laetrile depend on the way it is given. Side effects are worse when laetrile is given by mouth. While taking laetrile, side effects get worse when:

  • Eating raw almonds or crushed fruit pits.
  • Eating certain types of fruits and vegetables, such as
    • celery,
    • peaches,
    • bean sprouts, and
    • carrots.
  • Taking high doses of vitamin C.

Is Laetrile Approved by the FDA for Use as a Cancer Treatment in the United States?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved laetrile as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition. Laetrile is made in Mexico. The way that laetrile is made is not regulated, so batches of laetrile may vary in purity and contents.


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Last updated April 5, 2018