The Unani View of Cancer
In his Canon, Avicenna provides a general review of the Unani views on cancer. It should be noted that any treatment plan should be specific to an individual and administered by a qualified physician.
Pulse evaluation likely will reveal a total disorder of his metabolic system, particularly the phlegm and black bile humors. In the Unani view, cancer is not actually one disease, but several hundred different symptoms affecting virtually any organ.
According to Unani, cancer is essentially a disease of the black bile humor. That is, it means that all four of the humors are out of balance. Ripening, purging, and rebalancing of each of the four humors in turn are required for a cure to take place. This is not an easy procedure, because the superfluous and toxic by-products are constantly being emitted, and since the last humor that is out in the chain must usually be treated first. This means that one must try to treat the black bile humor first. But, with all of the others out, even if that humor is restored, it almost immediately is thrown out of balance again. Therefore, the Hakims state that cancer is a difficult disease to cure.
According to medical statistics, more than half of all cancer patients do not live five years. There have been reports that one out of three persons dies of cancer today, and by the year 2010 this figure is expected to be one in two.
There are some who assert that the orthodox medical treatments of chemotherapy and radiation are unsuitable for cancer. While I agree they are more radical than the period of life extended might justify, no system of healing produces a very impressive cure figures for all forms of cancer.
Dr. Ernesto Contreras operates a cancer treatment clinic in Mexico. He is a Harvard-educated medical doctor and his clinic uses all forms of treatment--chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, laetrile, glandular injections, and many others--depending on each patient's specific needs. In 1979 he claimed an absolute cure rate of about 2 percent, the same rate as for any other kind of treatment. By "cure" it is meant that the cancer goes into total remission, does not return, and is not the cause of death (not just within five years, but not ever: that is a cure). In any event, the cure rate is approximately equal to that for spontaneous remission, in which the cancer disappears without treatment.
The Unani philosophy is that cancer is the end stage of the degeneration of the metabolic efficiency of the body--the extinguishing of the innate heat--brought on primarily by incorrect diet and other imbalances in various aspects of the patient's life, usually occurring over a long period of time. Therefore, we do not emphasize cancer treatment as a feature of Unani Traditional Medicine, although sometimes remarkable results do transpire. These are due, in our judgment, not to the remarkable powers of Unani or herbs, but simply to the fact that the patient had sufficient metabolic efficiency to recover.
As noted above, cancer is a disease of the black bile humor. It can occur with only the black bile humor out of balance, or one or more humors out of balance along with it. In severe cases, all four may be disordered.
Avicennas View on Cancer
According to Avicenna, cancer is a tumor arising from "burning" of the black bile humor. By burning it is meant that the increase of innate heat has become pathological. The cancerous tumor is usually differentiated from benign tumors by the signs of pain, acuteness, and some degree of throbbing and rapid increase in size.
Swelling is a manifestation of this black bile substance "boiling" at its junction with the organ. Cancerous tumors also send out crab-like "tracks," and there is a trend toward blackness, green, and heat. Avicenna notes that cancer occurs mostly in hollow organs and that is why it is more frequent in women. It also is common in the nerves, muscles, tendons, and lymph.
In the Unani view, the first objective in the treatment of cancer is to keep it as stationary as possible so that it will not increase, and to keep it nonulcerated. A cure is most likely if treatment is begun at the earliest stage. Avicenna notes: "When the cancer is advanced and well-established, it will not cure."
In the case of occult (hidden) cancers becoming manifest after having existed for some time, both Avicenna and Hippocrates believed the best course is to leave the tumor alone. Avicenna writes: "And if it is left and not treated (removed) the patient may remain alive longer with some safety, especially if the diet is corrected and made to cool and to refresh and produce a bland, safe material like barley water, mashed fish, egg yolk half-boiled, and the like."
If there is elevated temperature and fever, Avicenna advises a diet of churned cow's milk, strained vegetables, and squash.
Surgery is recommended by Avicenna for small cancers. His influence on contemporary surgical procedure is evident in his description of the technique to employ:
"If the small cancer can be arrested with anything, it can be so by vigorous excision, the radical one extending beyond the tumor to a circle . . . to be excised from the surrounding of the tumor including all the vessels supplying the tumor so that nothing of these will be left and that much blood will flow from the vessels."
But Avicenna's view is much more comprehensive, as he immediately qualifies his recommendation that surgery "be preceded by purifying (clearing) the body of the bad material (black bile) by purgation, cupping, and maintaining that purity by good food quantitatively and qualitatively and strengthening the defense (resistance) of the organ involved."
Even with careful surgery and strict dietary therapy, Avicenna adds this strong caution: "Nevertheless, most of the time, excision increases the cancer." Further surgery is often needed, and in this "there may be a great danger if the cancer was in the vicinity of the principal organs and the precious vital organs."
This is quite often the case when surgery is performed on one breast, for example, and soon arises in the other.
The formula Avicenna recommends for palliation consists of 4 teaspoons of dodder (Cuscuta Europea) in honey, given at three-day intervals. It acts as a brisk purgative. Colocynth (Citrullus colocynthis) has a similar effect.
Local medications for cancer are many. There are four purposes to such treatments: (1) total arrest of the cancer (this is difficult); (2) preventing its progress; (3) preventing ulceration; and (4) treatment of ulceration.
These medications given for total arrest of the tumor or reversing the effects of the corrupted black bile should not be overly powerful, since strong medication increases the risk of spreading the cancer. Also, one should avoid irritant medicines. For these purposes Avicenna recommends zinc oxide mixed with essential oils of rose and other flowers.
Preventing the progress and growth of cancer can be accomplished by controlling the black bile by improving diet and reinforcing the organ involved, and by using salves of substances such as dust from millstone and whetstone, mixed with rose oil and coriander water.
Medications that are needed to prevent ulceration should not be irritants. Many salves can be used for this purpose, but Avicenna specially recommends Armenian bole (a kind of earth), houseleek water, and lettuce juice, or mucilage of fleawort. Also of benefit are zinc oxide preparation with the soft part of fluvial crab.
An ointment recommended for treatment of ulceration is made of kernels of wheat mixed with frankincense and Armenian bole and made into an ointment by adding rose oil. Zinc oxide mixed with rose oil is a simple remedy that is said to be effective.
Cancer will be eliminated only when people return to a more balanced, natural lifestyle, and keep the body, mind, and spirit free from impurities.
Resources for Information on
Alternative Therapies in Cancer
Note: Some of the contact information may be out of date.
Arlin J. Brown Information Center
Cancer Control Society
Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapy
Victors and Friends
World Research Foundation