Sujal Torgal Patil
The 21st century has been highlighted with many innovations and inventions which have unbelievably changed our way of living. For instance an individual without a cellular phone can be distinguished as a rare specimen of our species today. We may be extremely fortunate to live in an easy era but when our collective health comes into the picture we may have managed to increase the life span or reduce the mortality rate, but the quality of life has majorly deteriorated. We are suffering from disorders which are not only complicated but incomprehensible.
This article tries to understand one of such dreaded disorder which can happen to anybody, at any age without even an explicably discreet cause or a causative organism – cancer.
It would be unwise to say there was nothing like cancer before as ayurveda wouldn’t have had elaborate information on the conditions similar to this disease. But its sheer prevalence now makes it one of the most dreaded diseases of the 20th century. With more than 1300 persons succumbing to cancer everyday it has become one of the major causes of death in the country followed by tuberculosis.
What is common in all the types of disorders is that a part of the body starts behaving out of sync, sometimes opposite to the natural process or rhythm. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or are damaged they die and new cells take their place. When cancer develops this orderly process breaks down. Cells become abnormal, old or damaged and survive when they shouldn’t and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and may form growths called tumours. Many cancers form solid tumours which are masses of tissue. Cancers such as leukaemia generally do not form solid tumours. Cancerous tumours are malignant which means they can spread into or invade nearby tissues. Unlike malignant tumours, benign tumours do not spread into or invade nearby tissues.
Cancer is a genetic disease. It is caused by changes in genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents. They can also arise during a person’s lifetime as a result of errors that occur as cells divide or because of damage to DNA caused by certain environmental exposures. Cancer-causing environmental exposures include substances such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke and radiation such as ultraviolet rays from the sun. Each person’s cancer has a unique combination of genetic changes. As the cancer continues to grow, additional changes will occur. Even within the same tumour, different cells may have different genetic changes.
Carcinogens are divided into four types, namely, chemical, physical (radiation), biological and hormonal.
Ayurveda hasn’t defined just a single condition resembling cancer, but a large group of disorders or rather pathological conditions can be clubbed together in one term. Gulma is a term used to describe any palpable hard mass in the abdomen. This does not mean that gulma is cancer but rather any hard, tumour like mass in the abdominal region. Granthi is a specific term for a tumour, lump or nodule that is visible from the surface. These tumours often open up on the surface of the skin as an ulcer (vrana). Granthi may be benign or malignant; however the term is often used to describe benign tumours. Arbuda is the most specific term for a cancerous malignancy. Dwirabuda indicates that the malignancy has metastasized or spread from its initial site to other parts of the body.
From an ayurvedic perspective all three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) play a vital role in the etio-pathology. Along with the dosha, the agni (digestive fire), rasa, rakta, mamsa and the meda dhatu are largely affected. The derangement starts from the impaired digestion and seeps in the deeper tissues of the body gradually. A particular system or organ is attacked because of sthan vaigunya ie the organ or the system becomes vulnerable and weak because of repeated abuses in the form of disease or malfunction. An example of this is: A duodenal cancer patient usually has a long term history of hyperacidity or ulcers. So here the cause lies in the improper dietetics or lifestyle which led to the ulcer and then the cancer. Also ayurveda believes that cancerous growths are not local or confined to a particular tissue or organ but the whole body is affected and therefore there is a need of an overall holistic approach including treating the mind as well. There is an infliction of the ojus (the immune response), the manas (the mental apparatus), and the delicate metabolic status of the body.
Early signs and symptoms of cancer specifically are not often present. But the body tries giving hints subtly. If you have recurrent fevers, acidity, ill digestion, irregular and abnormal motions, sleep disorders, skin allergies, frequent infections, it is better not to go just for the symptomatic treatment but for complete cure. Cancer often develops in the body for quite some time before the body’s functions are compromised and symptoms are noticeable. This is one more reason why early detection through non invasive testing is so important. Patients who experience unexplained weight loss, night sweats, unexplained pain (especially at night) and abnormal bleeding from any orifice should seek immediate medical attention.
To be continued…
(Writer is CMO at Traya Natural Health Centre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)