Cancer is a disease entity which no medical system, modern or complementary and alternative medicine, has really been able to control. All the current research data suggest that it is a growing concern across the world with numbers rising every year. In general, Cancer is defined as a large heterogeneous class of diseases in which a group of cells show uncontrolled growth, invade adjacent cells and spread across the body through the lymphatic system.
Ayurveda, the most ancient, structured medical system known to man mentions cancerous growths under the terminology “Arbuda". The concept of Arbuda is similar to that of a malignant tumor, which is treated surgically. These are explained in detail in the text of Susruta, who is considered as the "Father of Surgery".
However, in a clinical scenario, Ayurveda treats various cancers, as different entities. The treatment approaches to Ayurveda in cancer can be surmised under
1) Disease conditions that are directly mentioned and shows clear malignancy, which includes diseases that are diagnosed as arbuda and granthi. Examples are melanoma (referenced as mamsarbuda) and leukemia (referenced as raktarbuda) and oral cancer (mukharbuda).
2) Diseases that can be considered as cancer, such as carcinomas of the stomach and hepatocellular carcinomas affecting liver or various lymphomas which are explained in Ayurveda under diseases like Gulma or Udara.
3) Diseases with the possibility of malignancy, like erysipelas which is explained under Visarpa, incurable jaundice (asadhya kamala) and non-healing ulcers(nadi vrana).
Patients approach Ayurvedic practitioners for treatment of their primary treatment of cancer, following failure with modern treatment in progressing cancers (usually palliative), or as complementary to chemotherapy and radiation.
Among Ayurvedic polyherbal combinations that have shown an effect, “Brahma Rasayana”, an Ayurvedic classical preparation with rasayana (regenerative) properties have shown inhibition in tumor angiogenesis and prevention lung metastasis in animal models. Another commonly used Ayurveda rasayana preparation called “Chyavana prasha” has also been studied with Brahma Rasayana and found to be effective in Cisplatin (Cisdichlorodiammineplatinum [II] CDDP) induced acute nephrotoxicity, a side effect of a commonly used group antineoplastic drugs for tumor. These formulations have shown promise in alleviating various physiological conditions induced by free radicals and have tissue regeneration capability.
Ayurveda use more than 200 herbs and plants to treat Cancer. Early laboratory and animal research suggests that compounds taken from traditional Ayurvedic herbals may be able to slow the growth of cancer in animals. Some important ones among them are Withania somnifera, Boswellia serrata, Vitis vinifera, Dysoxylum binectariferum, Zingiber zerumbet Smith, Moringa olifera etc.
Withaferin A from Withania somnifera stopped the growth of breast cancer in mice in several findings. Selaginella bryopteris, an herb known in Ayurveda as Sanjeevani, was seen to stop the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory and also reduced the development of skin tumors in mice.
Acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) taken from the gum resin of the Boswellia serrata was found to slow the growth of bowel cancers in mice. Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is another herb that has shown action against bowel, prostate and liver cancer.Cow’s urine is another commonly used medicine in Ayurveda treatment for cancer.
Some important side effects of chemotherapy and Radiation therapy are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mucositis, alopecia, anorexia, fatigue, sleep disturbances and constipation. Ayurveda can effectively manage these symptoms effectively and can be used as complimentary for chemo and radiation.
Biomedical treatment of cancer is not always feasible, and an Ayurvedic approach focusing on improving digestion, free radical scavenging, preventing tumor growth, and enhancing tissue metabolism may be useful. Ayurvedic treatment to cancer is focused on restoring equilibrium of doshas, improving immunity, strength and rejuvenation.