Cancer – The Ayurvedic Perspective

In 1987, Dr. Mana completed a five year personal research project resulting in the publication of his book, The Ayurvedic Records of Cancer Treatment (Bajracharya, 1987). According to Dr. Mana, “It is not well known that much research work concerning the proper treatment of cancer has been recorded in different Ayurvedic texts, (and) I hope that the Ayurvedic knowledge of cancer treatment presented in this book will be a new alternative guideline for modern medical scholars who are really serious about research of cancer treatment.”

The entire book is available from the above link in Nepal, and is worth purchasing if you are interested.  I have taken the liberty (with Dr. Mana’s permission, of course) of editing and reprinting the following key paragraphs. I believe this is the first clear presentation in English of Ayurvedic cancer theory. 

The English medical word cancer does not refer to a new disease. This word is used to indicate a malignant tumor, or any kind of abnormal growth. Abnormal growths, either malignant or not, are assigned particular names in English, dependent upon type and location. Examples are tumor, neoplasm. epithelioma, carcinoma, sarcoma, fibroma, myoma, lipoma, adenoma, angioma, cyst etc.

The Ayurvedic words for abnormal growths were also based on type and location, and were assigned names in a similar fashion.  Granthi, Arbuda, Gulma, Asthila, Balmika, Shaluka are some of the words which were used. Thus, names assigned by both systems generally refer to neoplasms found within particular organs or body tissues.

In the West, neoplasms are divided into two pathogenic natures, benign and malignant. The Ayurvedic words ‘Tridosaja’ abnormal growth or ‘Sannipataja’ abnormal growth is used to indicate the malignant stage of the neoplasm; the word ‘Vataja’ or ‘Pittaja’ or ‘Kaphaja’ or a combination of any two of them (e.g. Vata-Pittaja or Vata-Kaphaja or Pitta-Kaphaja) is used to signify a benign neoplasm.

Ayurveda explains that a malignant abnormal growth, or Tridosaja neoplasm, is one in which all the three major bodily control systems–Vata, Pitta and Kapha–which should have mutual coordination for normal functioning of the body, are out of control.

A cyst like bluish abnormal growth with neuralgic pain is the main symptom indicating the presence of a Vataja neoplasm. A reddish or yellowish vascular growth with inflammation and burning pain characterizes the Pittaja neoplasm. A stone like hard abnormal growth with a little pain and itching is descriptive of a Kaphaja neoplasm. The Sannipataja or Tridosaja neoplasm manifests all the characters of Vataja, Pittaja and Kaphaja neoplasm. In the same way, a neoplasm with the name Vata-Pittaja, Vata-Kaphaja, or Pitta-Kaphaja will have a mixture of symptoms.

Following these definitions, Ayurveda has classified all kinds of neoplasm to delineate their malignant or non-malignant nature for proper diagnosis and treatment. Readers who are interested in researching the field of Ayurveda should know these definitions. Otherwise, the Ayurvedic approach, which is not based on modern medical science, will not be clearly understood.

Ayurveda points out that the tissues of the inner layer of the dermis, or the same kind of tissues lining any part of the body, are regarded as the original birth place of Granthi or Arbuda. The tissue of the inner layer of the skin is called ‘rohini.’ Literally it means ‘tissue which has the nature of growth.’ Ayurvedic anatomy considers it to be a sixth layer of the skin. It seems clear that the word rohini is a synonym for the word epithelium, the group of cells found lining the skin, and surface layers of the mucous membranes.

Pathogenic injuries to muscular tissues and blood can be caused by lifestyle errors, such as unhealthy foods, poor hygiene, or poor behavior. They can also result from physical trauma, or imbalances of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Such injuries result in injury to the rohini tissue, and the formation of abnormal branches from the blood vessels. In this stage, early Granthis or Arbudas can develop, in the form of bubble shaped glandular growths.

Because the injured Rohini tissues have ‘the nature of growth,’ the process of healing often leaves behind tiny scars. That is, the rapidly growing cells have a tendency to form poorly vascularized tissue during repair. However, the injured rohini tissues cannot, in general, develop into harmful neutral cells. But it is well investigated that injured rohini tissues which exist within the milieu of  muscular tissue, fats and/or blood which are vitiated by pathogens (doshas), can and do develop into harmful neutral cells. Thus the epithelial cells become parasites.

At the time of Atreya and Dhanwantari (7th century BC), surgery was considered the best method of treatment. They found that the herbal medical treatments against cancer, either in the form of Granthi or Arbuda, were beneficial only in the beginning stage. Nonetheless, they recorded a group of successful treatments for use against Gulma and neoplasms of individual organs.

Vagbhata (8th. century AD), a well-known Buddhist physician, composed two texts: Astanga Hridaya and Astanga Sangraha. These texts introduced some new understandings and a new medical approach to the treatment of cancer. For example, these texts have delineated some new types of Granthis and their treatments.

The Siddhas (7th. to 13th. century AD) are known as the founders of Buddhist and Hindus Tantrism. They made powerful contributions to the field of medicine. Especially the science which became incorrectly known as “Alchemy,” but which was actually medicine making based upon their theories of the pharmacology of toxic materials, is the contribution which brought about a revolutionary change in the medical history of Ayurveda. As a consequence of their contributions, cancer was considered no longer incurable, if it was treated in the early stages. This was true for both the basic common neoplasms, and neoplasms of the individual organs.

The Chakradatta composed by Dr. Chakrapani (10th. century AD), the Sarangadhara Samhita by Dr. Sarangadhara (14th. century AD), the Bhavaprakasha Samhita by Dr. Bhavamisra (15th. century AD), the Satmya Darpan Samhita by Dr. Viswanath (16th. century AD), the Vaisajya Ratnabali  by Dr. Binoda Lala Sen Gupta (18th. century AD), the Rasatarangini  by Dr. Sadananda Sharma ( 19th. century AD) etc. are the Ayurvedic texts of internal medicine. These texts contain numerous well tested remedies based on ‘alchemy’ for internal and external cancers.

The fundamental theory of Ayurvedic treatment is based on the balance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Within the body, these philosophical ‘regulatory energies’ are represented by three major bodily systems: the nervous system, the venous system and the arterial system. Observation shows that three regulatory systems are found connected to every internal organ; they regulate each organ, as well as the organism as a whole.  This theory is called Tridosa Siddhanta.

As we mentioned earlier, the original Ayurvedic texts pointed out that the medical treatment against cancer based on the theory of Tridosha balance had no satisfactory results. Medicine based on the theory of balance has a mild or slow effect that cannot effectively counteract the rapid growth and the critical condition of most cancers. Therefore, the doctors of that time period emphasized surgery as the best application for the cure of cancer.

The effect of drugs based on the principle of ‘alchemy’ is different and more powerful. Certain poisonous plants, heavy metals (such as mercury and arsenic), minerals, and animal products were found very useful in cancers when they were prepared by the process of alchemy, using various methods to alter the strong poisons and render them harmless. Their extensive research in this field focused on the idea of ‘Rasayana,’ or rejuvenation, the term for the Ayurvedic school that focused on longevity (one of the eight original branches). With the intention of promoting long life and good health, the doctors studying Rasayana therapies concentrated on the unique nature of certain plants and minerals which stimulated the body tissues to create extraordinary immunity against many forms of disease. Working in this field, ancient alchemists were proud to introduce some effective remedies for external and internal cancers.”

The remainder of the book describes dozens of classical formulas and treatments used for various types of cancers (see the resource guide for instructions on how to obtain this information).  Ayurvedic treatment for cancer requires a high level of skill in diagnosis and choice of medicines, so I will offer only a few sample formulas, in addition to the shilajatu rasayana formula presented earlier in this chapter:

This “alchemical” anti-cancer formula was presented by Dr. Vagbhata in the 13th century, in the 24th chapter of his book Rasaratna Samucchaya.  Purified mercury is ground with tanduliyam juice (Amaranthus polyganus), punarnava root (Boerhavia difusa), naga (a type of Sida cordifolia), aloe gum (kanya or A. vera), bala, and cow urine. Note: This medicine contains toxic ingredients and requires special preparation skills. Mercury preparations are not legal to import into the United States as the present time.

Kaishore Guggulu: 64 parts each of haritaki fruit, vibhitaki fruit, amla fruit and guduchi stem are mixed together with 64 parts of guggul gum, and boiled in an iron vessel. When the mixture becomes gummy, mix in:
3 parts each of haritaki fruit, vibhitaki fruit, amla fruit
4 parts of guduchi stem
6 parts of trikatu
2 parts of vidanga seeds (Embelia ribes)
1 part of danti seeds (Baliospermum montanum) and
1 part of trivrit root (Operculina turpethum)
Form into one-gram pills. For cancer, this compound is given in doses of two to four pills with warm water two to three times per day. It is also used for boils, ulcers, gout, and other forms of inflammation (Pitta dosha).

General Ayurvedic Immune Treatment

Ayurvedic treatment is far more involved than just tonic formulas. In fact, there are not only specific treatment protocols for individual types of cancers, which are quite comprehensive, but also dietary, lifestyle and hygiene protocols for prevention. Such suggestions include avoidance of excess amounts of greasy food and alcohol.  Regarding prevention of breast cancer, Dr. Mana told me in 1978 that herbalists have known for several hundred years that breast feeding plays a very important role in preventing breast cancer.  Blockage or distention of the vessels and lymphatic ducts in the breast is considered to be a precondition of dysplastic or cancerous changes. Dr. Mana gave three examples:

• At the time of menstruation, hormonal changes cause the breasts to expand with slight pain.  The breasts should naturally return to their normal condition.  If the breasts remain expanded with pain, or if the pain and swelling are excessive, this indicates that there are blockages in the blood vessels or ducts.  For the health of the breasts, this condition must be corrected as soon as possible, using hot compress or hot fomentation to clean the duct system. Steam bathing or application of a hot fomentation (such as castor oil packs) is beneficial.

• Right after the birth of a child, whether male or female, the breasts of a healthy baby are naturally full of milky liquid.  This liquid must be taken out daily for a period of one month.  The best practice is to squeeze out gently the milky liquid once or twice a day.  This prevents distension, resulting in healthier ducts throughout life. Later, when a female child reaches puberty, she will have fewer problems with blockage.

• If a woman avoids breastfeeding or has impurities in her breast milk, this sort of blockage in the ducts can occur. It is advised that right after childbirth the mother should make a simple test of the purity of her milk.  Pure milk dropped in water will dissolve completely.  If it does not dissolve, that indicates presence of an impurity in the milk that may create blockage and/or infection.  In this condition, use of bitter herbs such as turmeric root is beneficial to purify the milk.

Epidemiological studies have now confirmed the Ayurvedic observation in the last statement, saying that there is “accumulating evidence that lactation may have a weak protective effect on breast cancer risk” (Freudenheim et al., 1997), and “Modest inverse associations appeared to persist even up to 50 years since first lactation . . . suggesting that lactation may have a slight and perhaps long-lasting protective effect on postmenopausal breast cancer risk” (Newcomb et al., 1999).

Ayurvedic Case Histories of Cancer Treatment

In 1998 I asked Dr. Mana to provide me with some case histories for advanced cancers he had treated successfully:

Heidy (1985).  This 32-year-old German woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had both breasts removed in 1982. She came to Dr. Mana in Kathmandu in 1985 with a diagnosis of metastatic cancer of the lung, last stage. Her doctors had declared she had a maximum of six months to live, and she presented with extreme weakness, coughing, breathing difficulty, cachexia (weight loss), chest pain and hemoptysis (spitting of blood). She was initially given three Ayurvedic medicines, Lakshadiyoga, Kaishora guggulu and Chandraprabha rasayana.  She felt better day by day after the treatment and went back to Germany with strong confidence. After six months she came back to the Kathmandu clinic reporting a recent medical check-up which was very, very satisfactory. The neoplasm of the lungs had almost disappeared. Treatment was given for two more years using various Ayurvedic tonics. By 1998 she was completely cured, and she still contacts Dr. Mana every year. Her doctors in Germany did not believe how she was cured. They thought it to be a result of her destiny.

Sandra (1990). This 42-year-old American woman was diagnosed upon biopsy with malignant adenocarcinoma of the breast. She was advised to have immediate surgery, but she refused. She presented with both breasts enlarged with hard lumps, painful upon touch.  She was given several Ayurvedic tonics, including Kaishora rasayana, and  Shilajatu rasayana.   For three months there was only minor improvement, but the pain gradually decreased as the lumps became smaller. Her breasts gradually went down to normal size over the next six months, and she continued to take the medicine for one year without break. After the tumors were completely gone she was placed on supportive herbal therapy. She still calls Dr. Mana on the telephone from America,  and has had no relapse in eight years.

Champa Devi (1992).  This 40-year-old Nepali woman came to Dr. Mana with acute jaundice, no appetite, nausea, extreme weakness, constipation and enlarged liver. The local teaching hospital had done exploratory surgery and diagnosed her with obstructive jaundice with enlarged liver and liver neoplasm, but no treatment was deemed possible.  She was given several Ayurvedic medicines for both cancer and jaundice, including Kamalantaka and Manduravataka.   She improved day by day. After one month, the jaundice was gone, but the enlargement of her liver had not changed. After three months of treatment, her enlarged liver decreased to half its previous size, after which she began to gain hope. She continued treatment for more than one year, until she was completely cured. She believes she was given a new life.