Employing Ayurveda to Manage Cancer

A cancer-free world is what everyone is desirous of. Worldwide, cancer accounts for 10 million deaths every year; the common ones in men are lung, colon and rectum, prostate, liver and stomach. In women, the common cancers are breast, cervical, colorectal, lung and thyroid. The physical and mental burden of cancer on patients and caretakers grows globally. Personalized cancer care is the need of the day and researchers across the globe are relentlessly looking at various approaches to achieve it. The Canada India Foundation recently organized a webinar on how Ayurveda can be employed to manage cancer. The webinar was organized in collaboration with Canadian Ayurveda Practitioner’s Association, Consul General of India and the Vedic Spiritual Heritage Foundation.

Every year, in Canada, there are two hundred thousand people diagnosed of cancer of which 83 thousand lose their lives to it. The 6000-year-old system of Ayurveda can provide solutions to the management of cancer.

Dr Omprakash Dave, professor at Parul University in Vadodara with 30 years of experience in the field of Ayurveda, in his presentation, covered the Ayurvedic method of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer and at the same time provided details of the same process with respect to modern medicine. Charaka in Charaka Samhita explained the concept of cancer as Arbuda which means major neoplasm. Arbuda is a combination of two words that means to kill, that which has movement in the body, that which can hurt other organs and has an elevated and raised mass in the body. The said explanations are very similar to the modern explanations of cancer.

Modern medicine classifies cancer into different types such as adeno-carcinoma (arising from a gland- breast, prostate, pancreas), squamous carcinomas (arising from the mucosal linings- skin) and sarcoma (arising from the mesoderm tissues).

Modern medicine says that when apoptosis (programmed cell death) is disrupted, cells enter a phase of uncontrolled division. Apart from this, the machinery that is responsible for DNA replication, damage repair suffers mutations that causes the cell to divide continuously. A British surgeon in 1775 spoke of the incidence of nasal and scrotal cancer is high in chimney sweeps. Unprotected exposure to the sun causes skin cancer. Human papillomaviruses are causative factors to many cancers such as cervical and uterine cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption causes liver cancer, intake of fast-food leads to stomach cancer, consumption of tobacco leads to lung, pancreatic, liver and stomach cancer. Hormonal issues are also important causative factors.

According to Sushrutha, the tumours were classified according to the involved organ, tumour mobility, discharge, clinical features, metastasis and prognosis. He also described the major risk factors which include genetic predisposition, tobacco and alcohol use, lack of physical activity, environment and diet, certain viruses and finally unprotected exposure to sun.

In Ayurveda, there are two causative factors- General (Samanya) and specific (Vishesha). The latter constitutes of chronic/non-healing ulcers that have aggravated doshas. The components of Samprapti or diagnosis are- aggravated doshas, aggravated dhatus that affect Mamsa (flesh), Meda (adipose tissue) and Raktha (Blood). Further to this, the digestive fire or Agni is also affected during tumorigenesis. Dr Dave spoke of three types of Agni that are mostly affected during this process. (a) Jatharagni is the Agni in the Jathara (stomach and duodenum), Any malfunctioning in the Agni in this portion causes a disturbance in digestion leading to several digestive diseases, (ii)Bhutagni is the Agni in the five elements and (iii) Dhatyagni- the tissues of the body have their own Agni to metabolise the nutrients supplied to them via circulation. These are the main causative factors of cancer according to Ayurveda.

When Agni is disturbed, it causes a build of ama (toxins). This build-up obstructs the various channels in the body causing a malfunction in the different metabolic processes, finally leading to Arbuda. One can figure out if there is a build-up of Ama in the body from some symptoms that they face- Anorexia, lethargy, inability to pass urine/stools, inability to digest food, lack of concentration and interest, and excessive sleep. These lead to metabolic changes

Medicinal plants such as Turmeric, Ashwagandha, Guggul are frequently administered to patients. In India, the occurrence of ulcerative colitis is common which turns malignant in 3-4% of patients. Doctors treat it early and keep the disease under control. Ayurveda is effective to control burning sensations faced by patients after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Certain medicines act as enhancers such as Pippali that play a role in preventing diseases that are caused due to build-up of Ama.

Shilajit has supplementary minerals and Arbuda-prevention Gunas that are beneficial for patients who have undergone chemo and radio therapy. Shilajit has anti-mitotic properties which means they control cell division. (Mitosis is the process by which all cells except reproductive cells divide). It can also limit the size and recurrence of the tumour.

In a study conducted by Dr Dave where Shilajit was administered along with chemo and radio therapy, it was seen that the survival rate among those patients was 93%. Pippali mixed with Shilajit Churna are also given to patients to improve their quality of life.

Dr Dave gave his insights into the benefits of Guggul in cancer management. Guggul has a four-fold effect in cancer prevention. It has anti-mitotic and cytotoxic property, and can penetrate better inside the cells causing DNA damage. 2-3gms of Guggul powder is given to patients who are either newly diagnosed or those who have undergone chemo and radiotherapy.

A concoction, Jeevanpradavati constituting Guggul, Shilajit and extract of Guduchi reduces the lipid content, enhances anti-mitotic action, stimulates the appetite and improves digestion. It also prevents premature senile changes in cells thereby improving the overall strength and immunity of the body.

Dr Dave offered simple measures that one can follow to prevent the occurrence of any abnormal growth in the body such as limitation of meat consumption, reduction in the consumption of alcohol, use of water that is stored in copper, reduced exposure to pollution and sun, consumption of amalaka or Triphala. He also recommended that afternoon naps during the colder months is to be avoided. Shodana therapy also minimizes the occurrence of any abnormal growth.

Ayurveda has the potential to provide solutions to various ailments. If integrated with other systems of medicine can definitely give rise to a healthy world. Ayurveda can not only strengthen the physical body but it also strengthens the mind, which thereby contributes to better health, and a healthy nation.