Management of Cancer Herbal Approaches

Cancer should be called a symptom rather than disease. It indicates the abnormal uncontrolled and rapid growth of cells. Because of this, cancer cells are malignant in nature. Cancer cells differ from normal biological cells mainly in two ways. Firstly, so long as the host is alive, cancer cells are also alive and rapidly multiply themselves to form new cancer cells. They do not die until host dies. But in case of ordinary cells, they after a cycle decay automatically. Secondly, cancer cells can undergo “Metastasis”. The term metastasis means transfer of cancer cells from one organ of the body to another not directly connected with it. All malignant cells are capable of metastasizing, which means forming new loci in a distant part of the body from the original position. Ordinary cells on the other hand have no such power of metastasis. No stomach cell can move to the heart or heart cells to brain and so on.

There are more than 100 types of cancer. But broadly speaking, they are of two types: (1) Caricinoma, meaning malignant new growth made up of epithelial cells tending to infilterate surrounding tissues and give rise to metastasis and (b) SARCOMA means cancer arising in bode, connective tissue or muscle, i.e., the tissues mainly derived in the embryo from mesoderm and lymphatic blood vessels.
There are three methods for treating cancer: (1) Surgery, which can not be used when there is metastasis, (2) radiation therapy, which affects normal and cancerous tissues equally and (3) chemotherapy with some side effects. There is of course, another way of treatment, the immunotherapy the manipulation of immune response which is still in its infancy. Immunotherapy is often tried in association with chemotherapy.

In chemotherapy, the main basic factor in inhibition and
cure of cancer lies in the ability of drugs or chemotherapeutic
agents to kill cancer cell. These drugs have, however, no
capacity of repairing or converting a cancer cell to a normal
one. Our major difficulty here is that we yet do not know
the exact cause of growth of cancer cells.


  • Any sore that does not heal.
  • A lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere.
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • Any change in a wart or mole.
  • Persistant indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
  • Persistant hoarseness or cough.
  • Any change in normal bowel habits.


Apparent cause is chewing of tobacco and tobacco products,
pollution and exposure to radiations otherwise in most of the cases cause is unknown.

The role of cancer medicines is undoubtedly remarkable owing to the increasing scope and complexity of cytotoxic drugs. In this connection, a large number of plants have been tried and quite a good number of them have been used with success.

Role of Plants

  1. Viola odorata, Linn

    Family : Violaceae

    Names : Hindi – Banafshah

    Sanskrit – Banafsha

    English – Wild violet

    Bengali – Banafshah

    Marathi – Bag a banasa

    Gujarati – Banaphsa

    Tamil – Vialettu

    Kannada – Violethoo

    Trade name – Sweet-Violet

    Description: This herbaceous perennial plant has a short rhizome and creeping stolons which put out roots. The petiolate basal leaves are in rosette form mid-greenin colour. They are kidney-shaped with a corrugate surface, well defined venation and a crenate margin. The flowers are reddish brown. The fruit is a sub-spherical capsule containing dark seeds which have an outgrowth at one side.

    Distribution: A herb found in kashmir and in the temperate western Himalyas above 5000 ft. It is readily available in the market.

Parts used: Leaves, stem and flowers.

Phytochemicals: Flowers and root contain an alkaloidvioline, a glycoside-violuquercetin. Roots, leaves and blossoms contain methyl salicylate in the form of glucoside. Flowers also contain volatile oil. Roots and rhizomes contain an alkaloid -odoratine.

Properties: Emetic, purgative, emollient (any substance that softens the skin and renders it more pliant), demulcent (a substance which protects the mucous membranes and allays irritation), diaphoretic, diuretic, antipyretic, febrifuge, expectorant, laxative and anti-cancerous.

Form of Use: Flower infusion, decoction and juice-syrup.

Medicinal Uses

(a) In cancer: The fresh leaves of Viola odordte is a reputed
drug for treatment of cancer. Leaves relieve pain of cancerous growth, especially of throat, 2.5 oz of the fresh leaves are infused in a pint of boiling water in a covered metallic jar for 12 hours; the strained liquid is taken in the course of a day, in doses of a full
glass at a time for the treatment of cancer of throat and tongue.

(b) Other Uses

  1. The leaves are emollient and laxative. Powdered leaves
    taken at bed time with plain water, for constipation.
  2. The underground root is emetic and purgative; an infusion made with 2 oz of the roots act as a purge and emetic; its juice causes nausea and vomiting.
  3. The flowers are given in bilious affection, epilepsy, nervous disorders, prolapse of the rectum and uterus, and inflammatory swelling. The flowers are popularly used as a diaphoretic and for the treatment of coughs, sore throat, kidney diseases and liver disorders. It is used either as an infusion or as syrup.


Flower infusion – 30 to 50ml

Decoction of leaves – 500ml to 1 litre

2. Catharanthus roseus (L) G. Don

Family : Apocynaceae

Names : Hindi – Sadabahar

Bengali – Nayantara

Oriya – Ainskati

Malayalam – Ushamalari

Marathi – Sada-phul

Telugu – Billagannesu

Tamil – Sudukadu mallikal

Description: An erect herb upto one metre high, leaves orate, opposite, flowers in axillary clusters of 2 or 3 petals white or purple-red type. Fruits-many seeded, follicles.

Distribution: The plant is found all over India and cultivated in garden.

Parts used: Root and leaves.

Phytochemicals: Alkaloids-vincristine and vinblastine.

Properties: Stomachic, hypoglycemic, sedative and anti­cancerous.

Forms of use: Decoction of root and leaves, powder.

Medicinal Uses

(a) In Cancer: The plant (violet flowers) is found to be powerful anti-cancerous yielding two important alka­loids vincristine and vinblastine. They are powerful cytotoxic agents which arrest dividing cells in cancer. They are being used to treat Hodgkin’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, leukaemia, breast cancer and other related problems.

(b) Other Uses

  1. It is also used as hypoglycemic agent (in diabetes).
  2. As it is sedative in nature it is often used in stomachache.

3. Annona squamosa Linn.

Family : Annonaceae

Name :  Hindi – Sharifa

Sanskrit – Sitaphal

English – Custard apple

Bengali – Ata

Description: A tree about 20ft high, leaves oblong, lanceolate or elliptic, obtuse or subacute, glaucous, and pubescent beneath when young. Fruit glocose, 2 to 4 inch diameter, tuberculate, yellowish brown, pulp dense. The seeds are many, black, smooth and oblong.

Distribution: All over India, cultivated

Parts used: Leaves, bark, root, seed and fruit.

Phytochemicals: Alkaloids, ascorbic acid, sugars, oil,
acrid principle.

Properties: Astringent, tonic, anthelmintic, purgative,
duretic and anti-cancerous.

Forms of use: Fruit, root powder, decoction.

Medicinal Uses

(a) In Cancer

  1. It is found to have anti-cancerous properties against human epidermal carcinoma of the Nasopharynx in tissue culture.
  2. Ripe fruit bruised and mixed with salt is applied to malignant tumours to hasten suppuration (pus formation) and healing.

Other Uses

  1. Leaves made into a paste without adding water are applied to unhealing ulcers.
  2. A paste of seeds powder is applied to uterus to cause abortion.
  3. Fresh leaves after crushing applied to nostril, cut short fits of hysteria and fainting.


Fruit                … 24 to 48 g
Root Powder … 0.2 to 0.5 g

Other Useful Plants

Camellia sinensis (Tea) – It is a curative herb having established antipyretic and diuretic properties. No wonder tea is the most commonly taken drink after water. It is found that common tea consumption can help check cancer but more researches are required to substantiate this claim. Tea is a rich source of antioxidants.

“Basic life processes of the body result in a by product called the free radicals of oxygen. Free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body are derived either from normal, essential or metabolic process or external sources. These are mostly responsible for and hasten the progress of several diseases. Chronic exposure to free redicals can damage DNA, membrane lipids, lipoproteins and functional and structural proteins.”

The human body has several inbuilt mechanisms to protect against free redicals and other ROS. These involve systems of enzymes, which are not completely effective. Many fruits and vegetables also help in countering the free redicals.

“Free redical scavengers of antioxidants have been shown to protect against cancer, counter blockages of heart vessels; and prevent heart attacks, decrease the risk of cataract and slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease,” says Mr. Krishnaswamy, Health Information Center, Bangalore.

There is strong logic behind grandma’s insistence on consuming fresh fruits and vegetables. But today’s diets compromise on their intake. In addition, costs put it out of reach of many.

There is an increasing body of scientific evidence that claims tea is an abundant source of flavonoid antioxidants and thus an important component of a healthy diet. These flavonoid antioxidants effectively stabilise the free electrons. It has been found that tea beverage has greater antioxidant capacity than most fruit and vegetables per serving and is more potent than vitamins C, D and carotenoids.

We will have to learn to drink tea as tea and not as a sweet, syrupy and milky concoction produced by continuously boiling tea leaves, while milk to a certain extent is beneficial, the addition of excess sugar takes away all positive qualities.

More evidence is being churned out regarding the importance of the role of tea antioxidants as “helpful scavengers.” It is clear, though, that a combination of antioxidants may in the long run be more effective than large quantities of any single antioxidant.

Brassica compestris (Mustard)-It is a spice used for flavouring and as a source of edible oil has shown beneficial effects in preventing cancer. The protective enzymes can deactivate cancer causing substances. They may also act by functioning as an antioxidant by enhancing tissue levels of protective enzymes in the body. These substances stimulate specifically the levels of gluthione-s-transferases, GST, a group of enzymes which helps to detoxify the harmful agents. This is reported that all plants of this family (crucifarae) have anti-cancerous potential.

Brassica oleracea (Cabbage)/Brassica botrytis (Cauli­flower) and Brassica cauloropa (Broccoli)-All belong to crucifarae family have been found to be effective in deacti­vating the harmful effects of food toxins. The plants of this family are reported to contain benzyl isothiocyanate which invariably have found to inhibit carcinogenesis. Besides, they are also found to contain some indoles, a chemical activating the microsomal mixed function oxidase activity to the point of detoxification of carcinogenic compounds. Those people who smoke much should take great amount of these vegetables to excrete cancer causing tobacco chemicals from the body. Cruciferous vegetables are good source of anti-carcinogens.

Curcuma longa (Turmeric)-Extract of turmeric, an integral part of Indian cooking and diet, helps reduce clinical symptoms and prevented progression of oral cancer in almost all patients tested. The patients were given 500 mg of turmeric extract thrice daily for fifteen days. Some patients responded early and some with delay. The burning sensation in the mouth and other clinical symptoms decreased in almost every case. The extract is well tolerated with no toxic effects on the liver or kidneys and no loss of appetite. The extract was equally effective in three years old oral cancer lesions. i.e., “Submucous fibrosis” in which the mouth opening gets highly contracted and the colour and texture of skin in the mouth changes (orallenkoplakia, where white patches develop in the mouth) and “Oral Lichen Planus” where mouth becomes sensitive to hot and cold substances.

The first condition, oral submucous fibrosis, is most common in India, and is present in many “Pan Masala” chewers, while the second, orallenkoplakia, is common in betel quid chewers.

Apart from what has been described above, more plants like Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple plant) yielded podophyllotoxin found useful in the treatment of testicular cancers. Taxols from Taxus brevifolia and baccata are found effective against ovarian cancers. A substance called genistein, found in Foeniculum vulgare (Soya) weakens the ability of cancer cells to grow faster so they starve and die. Allium sativum, Withania somnifera, Trichossanthus dioca (Parval) are also useful in cancer. Other formulations developed with hers like Sariva, Amrita, Bhallataka are found effective in the cancers of uterine, cervical, liver, kidney, leukaemia, breast cancer and brain tumours.

Now-a-days, as said for the prevention of cancer a holistic approach would be, to use carotene/vitamin A, E, C, B­Complex and iron, selenium in everyday vegetables and fruits: turmeric, ginger, garlic (selenium source), onion, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, amla, lemon, orange, papaya, mangoes and other dark green vegetables. Infact, natural products promise a great deal where continuous research will slowly but inevitably payoff, and we may reasonably anticipate the day when it will be possible to find a cure to keep malignancy at bay.

Free On-line Cancer Information Service

The Sitaram Bhartiya Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi has started a free on-line information service on all aspects of cancer. All one has to do is dial 6867435 on weekdays, between 9 am and 5 pm. A trained person on the line will answer queries, in Hindi or English. The information can also be sent by mail or e-mail on request free of charge.

The e-mail addressis;sbisr@giasdl01.

The CIS (Cancer Information Service) provides information on:

  • The nature of cancer,
  • ways to detect it early,
  • lifestyles to adopt to prevent some cancers,
  • tests and techniques to diagnose cancer,
  • location and the nearest facility offering treatment of
  • management of side-effects,
  • availability of medicines and disposables,
  • psychological and social support groups in Delhi,
  • rehabilitation services, and the like.

Prophylectics against cancer

  • Use of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and tomatoes in
  • Use of coloured fruits and vegetables.
  • Use of vitamins (A, C, E) and unsaturated fatty acids
    (Omega acids).
  • Use of mustard oil and mustard saag.
  • Use of garlic and turmeric.