Ayurveda and Cancer

During my internship at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, I had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Anand Dhruva. Dr. Anand Dhruva is a MD and is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. Dr. Dhruva is on the Hematology-Oncology faculty at UCSF, and is also a graduate of the distant-learning Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine from the University of Arizona. Ever since I’ve heard about Dr. Dhruva’s work on Ayurveda and Cancer, I have been drawn to study and investigate this subject more.I wanted to explore how Ayurvedic principles were being used in an integrative medicine practice to treat cancer patients. At the center, Dr. Dhruva has been working in the new modality of Integrative Oncology, which employs a holistic approach to healing, utilizes evidence whenever possible, emphasizes the patient-practitioner relationship, and makes use of all appropriate approaches to health. I had the opportunity to interview him. This is an excerpt of the interview:

Q- Cancer is a new age disease and Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine. What do you anticipate the role of Ayurveda in treatment and prevention of cancer to be?

A – Yes, Cancer is a relatively a new disease but principles of Ayurveda can be still applied to treat and prevent cancer. Ancient Ayurvedic text talk about clinical features, resembling cancer, with the names such as Apachi, Gulma, Granthi, and Arbuda. More importantly, since most cancers occur due to lifestyle choices, adopting Ayurvedic principles in your daily life can go a long way in preventing cancer.

Q- What is the treatment protocol followed for Cancer Patients at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine? A-            Most patients that come to the center know what doctors they want for their treatment. Over the last 5 years, Ayurveda has become more and more popular. More and more patients come in specifically asking for me since they are aware of my work with cancer. It is possible that at one point a patient may be visiting multiple doctors/ practitioners at a time. For instance, a patient may be visiting a Chinese Medicine Doctor such as Beverly Burns where they are also prescribed Chinese herbs and Acupuncture. It is not possible to collaborate with each and very doctor the patient meets at the center. It is extremely time consuming. However, as doctors we have access to the patients’ reports and doctors notes that we may consider while prescribing a treatment. I usually interact very closely with Beverly Burns specially when herbs are concerned. I see patients in all stages of cancer. They might visit me because of a prevalence of cancer in their family or they might have just been diagnosed or they might be receiving chemotherapy or radiation or they might be at the maintenance stage. However, a majority of my patients fall in the category where they are either receiving treatment under the western medicine model or are in the recovery/ maintenance phase. The treatment usually involves nutrition, lifestyle choices, herbs and ayurvedic yoga. We usually do not offer any massage treatments at the clinic but I do train my patients on how they could safely practice marma therapy, abhangya or even panchakarma. I rarely refer clients out. The goal of my practice is to integrate safe, effective, and individualized complementary healing approaches into standard cancer care and survivorship.

Q- Could you please share more information on your ongoing ‘MyK23’ research on Ayurveda and breast cancer? What are the findings from this research and how will this alter how care is provided to cancer patients at the Osher Center?

A – MyK23 is a pilot 5-year research funded by NIH grant. This research is focused on post breast cancer treatment patients. The idea behind this research is to evaluate whether Ayurveda can improve the quality of life of cancer patients by adoption of four basic principles of nutrition, lifestyle, marma and ayurvedic yoga. The utilization of herbs is missing from this study. The study looks at a four-month treatment procedure and measures the outcomes from these treatments. In year one of the study, the intervention was developed. 10 Ayurvedic doctors or practitioners were interviewed.  The study evaluated the similarities and differences in the treatment protocol prescribed by different Ayurvedic doctors. In the second year, evaluation of the Ayurvedic Diagnosis system was completed. In the third year, the Ayurvedic treatment manual was created. The study is currently in its fourth year, which involves the clinical study and data analysis. The study is scheduled to be completed by 2014. The main purpose of this study is to get a larger grant from NIH.  I personally spend 75% of my time in research and the remaining 25% of my time on seeing patients at the clinic.

Q- What do you anticipate the role of Ayurveda to be in the next decade in an integrative medicine center model? How do you compare that to Chinese Medicine?

A – Ayurveda has been gaining popularly in the last few years but it still has a long way to go before it can catch up with the status that Chinese Medicine enjoys in this country. Currently, there is an ongoing debate about licensure and credentialing of ayurvedic practitioners in the country. The World Ayurveda Congress that takes place in Bhopal, India every year facilitates US Ayurvedic doctors to offer and share their perspectives with their Indian counterparts. In the US, there are two organizations that are focused on this debate. Namely, NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) and AAPNA (Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America). However, there is a clear fragmentation in ideology between the members of these organizations. The NAMA members are mostly Ayurvedic doctors that have been trained in the US and the AAPNA members are doctors who have completed their BS and MS in Ayurveda in India. This has made crystallizing the requirements for licensure even more difficult. My hope however is that we will learn from the mistakes made my Chinese Medicine representatives and I do hope this should fasten the process of formalizing licensure and credentialing protocol for Ayurvedic practitioners.

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