Cancer is estimated to kill roughly 23 lakh men and 20 lakh women in India each year and the total number of cancer mortalities is expected to reach 70 lakhs a year by 2026 (1). Although conventional cancer treatments have evolved and made great progress over the last few decades, treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy are still fraught with severe side effects. The limitations of such conventional treatments have encouraged many cancer patients and caregivers to seek alternative treatments that are often unproven. This can be detrimental to survival as it delays proper treatment and this makes all the difference in cancer treatment outcomes. A more viable option to mitigate the risks and side effects of conventional care is the use of Ayurveda therapy for cancer. In fact, there is growing interest in the use of Ayurveda as a complementary therapy for cancer because of the growing evidence to support its efficacy.
Before we look at the evidence for Ayurveda therapy for cancer, let’s understand the Ayurvedic perspective of cancer.
Although cancer has become an increasingly common phenomenon in urban societies and modern times, it was not unknown in the ancient world. In fact, the ancient and revered Ayurvedic texts of Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas refer to cancer as either Granthi (minor neoplasm) or Arbuda (major neoplasm), which are said to involve either inflammatory or non-inflammatory swelling. In the case of granthi, one or two of the bodily systems lose control, but the body still tries to coordinate among the systems, which is why it is not as harmful. However, in case of arbuda, these were seen as extremely harmful as all three major bodily systems malfunction and cannot coordinate, leaving the individual vulnerable to greater tissue damage and mortality (2).
While we shall not go into further technicalities and Ayurvedic concepts, the pathogenesis of cancer is understood through the concept of tridoshas and the interactions of doshas. Ayurvedic physicians understand the complexity of cancer. This also accounts for the most unique and notable feature of Ayurveda therapy for cancer – it is personalized as Ayurveda believes that the impact and clinical presentation differs among patients, therefore requiring personalized treatment (3). Ayurvedic treatment for bladder cancer may therefore starkly differ from lung cancer ayurvedic treatment or skin cancer ayurvedic treatment. Broadly speaking, however, the treatment involves various holistic components such as an ayurvedic diet after chemotherapy, detoxification and purification of the body through panchakarma therapies, the use of herbal medications to energize the body, reduce side effects of chemotherapy, and boost energy levels.
The use of such ayurvedic chemotherapy combinations to improve cancer survival rates and quality of life has gained increased support with research that examines the benefits of ayurvedic treatment after chemotherapy.
As we delve deeper into the scope of Ayurveda in cancer management and care, researchers are discovering not just a wealth of information in ancient texts, but they are also identifying newer Ayurvedic medications with Ayurvedic herbs. Experimental and clinical studies on such Ayurvedic preparations have highlighted their anticancer efficacy and chemoprotective benefits. This is why Ayurveda therapy for cancer is not regarded simply as an alternative or unproven treatment, but as a viable complimentary therapy for cancer.
One such study involving 67 cancer patients looked at the effects of Ayurvedic therapies like Mauktikyukta Kamdudha and Mauktikyukta Praval Panchamruta during and after undergoing chemotherapy (4). The researchers found that patients who received complimentary Ayurvedic therapies responded better to treatment, experiencing less nausea, better appetite, higher energy levels, less indigestion or constipation, and better quality of life overall, as compared to patients who did not receive Ayurvedic treatment.
Although that may be a single study, there have been several other studies to evaluate specific Ayurvedic herbs and formulations to fight cancer or to mitigate cancer chemotherapy side effects, including toxicity. In this regard, it is worth noting that more than 200 Ayurvedic herbs have been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, with several also showing hepatoprotective and radioprotective properties (5,6). Research shows that Ayurvedic treatments with Ashwagandha Rasayana, Brahma Rasayana, Chyavanaprasha, and Triphala, among other formulations can help to protect against chemotherapy and radiation-induced toxicities like weight loss, appetite loss, and mortality.
These are just a few examples of studies that have been conducted, not to mention the many ongoing clinical trials and studies into Ayurvedic herbs for cancer management.
When considering Ayurveda therapy for cancer treatment, avoid making medical and treatment decisions without consulting your doctors. Do not stop your conventional treatment, unless advised to do so. Instead, inform your doctor about your decision to use Ayurvedic therapies as an adjunct to conventional care. You should also make it a point to consult an Ayurvedic physician to get personalized care and treatment recommendations.