The first accounts of cancer in the history of medicine can be seen in seven papyri from Egypt dating back to 1600 BC. The term ‘cancer’ was coined by Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) in his corpus. Descriptions of diseases resembling cancer have also been codified in the classical Ayurvedic
texts, which were composed few centuries before the Common Era. The discussion in the Suśruta Sahitā of the disease known as arbuda has striking resemblance to tumour forming cancers, with vivid clinical observations differentiating it from other growths. Suśruta also describes recurrence (adhyarbuda) and
metastasis (dvirarbuda) while the Caraka Sahitā differentiates benign tumour (granthi) from malignant tumour (arbuda) by the presence of a capsule (kośa). The classical texts of Ayurveda have also classified arbuda into many types. There is no direct evidence revealing the understanding of non-tumour forming
cancers in the tradition of Ayurveda. On the other hand, there are also diseases other than arbuda whose descriptions resemble cancer. This suggests that there was no umbrella term for cancer that included all types of malignancies under one heading. There is indication that the ancient physicians may have
understood the correlation between chronic inflammation and cancer as arbuda (malignant tumour) is considered to be an outcome of oedema and inflammation (śotha). Many herbs used in Ayurveda have been screened for activity against cancer and in-vitro and in-vivo studies have given promising leads. Ayurvedic physicians have also reported good outcomes when Ayurvedic treatments are administered as an adjuvant to chemotherapy and radiation for the management of cancer. There are also anecdotal reports of successful management of cancer with Ayurvedic treatment.
Ram Manohar P., “Early descriptions and classification of cancer in the classical Ayurvedic texts”, Indian Journal for History of Science, Indian National Science Academy, pp. 187-195, 2015.