The prostate gland is an organ situated at the neck of the urinary bladder. A malignant growth of the prostate is known as prostate cancer, which usually grows very slowly and does not exhibit any major symptoms in the first few years. Advanced prostate cancer spreads to the surrounding tissues and also to other parts of the body such as bones, lungs, and liver. Symptoms of this cancer are therefore more related to an advanced state of this condition.
Advanced prostate cancer is of special significance since it is the most common cancer in American men and is the second leading cause of death after lung cancer. It causes symptoms such as pain in the lower abdomen, slow passage of urine, the presence of blood in the urine, and lower back pain. A spread to the liver can cause pain in the upper right part of the abdomen as well as jaundice, while the spread of the cancer to the lungs can cause symptoms such as cough, breathlessness, and hemoptysis.
Prostate cancer can often be suspected during routine screening because of high PSA levels. Confirmation of the diagnosis of prostate cancer can be done by a digital rectal examination, PSA level testing, ultrasound examination, and biopsy of the prostate gland. Advanced prostate cancer needs further investigations like CT scan of the abdomen, CT scan of the chest, and possibly a PET bone scan. Biopsy examination is graded according to the Gleason scale and reflects the aggressiveness of the tumour, with scores of 7 to 10 indicating a rapidly growing tumour with a very poor prognosis. Gleason scores are also useful in predicting the risk of death from this tumour. Men with Gleason scores of 2 to 4 face a minimal risk (4 to 7%) of death from prostate cancer over the next 15 years, while men with scores of 8 to 10 face a high risk (60 to 87%) of death.
The tumour is also staged according to alphabets A, B, C and D or according to the TNM (tumour, [lymph] node, and metastasis) mode of classification, in order to decide the overall prognosis of the tumour as well as the management and treatment plan. Surgery, cryotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy are the treatment modalities useful in the management of prostate cancer. Local tumour, or locally advanced tumour is usually treated with a combination of surgery, cryotherapy, and radiation therapy. In the initial stages, watchful waiting is also considered a part of treatment, because of the slow growth of the tumour. Hormonal therapy and chemotherapy are considered for metastatic tumour, when it has spread to other parts of the body; however, treatment at this stage is considered to be palliative and not curative.
In this scenario, Ayurvedic herbal treatment can prove to be a boon for patients with locally advanced prostate cancer or metastatic tumour. Ayurvedic treatment can also prove to be very useful for patients with recurrent tumour, who have completed the full course of conventional treatment. Advanced or metastatic tumour needs aggressive treatment and therefore, Ayurvedic treatment for this condition needs to be instituted at the earliest, with the herbs being given in high doses. Herbal medicines which are useful in this condition have a specific affinity for the prostate and urinary tract, and also target the cancer cells within the tumour. These medicines are given in combination with other herbal medicines which have an immunomodulatory effect, so that the combined effect serves to treat the tumour at the earliest, prevents its spread to other parts of the body, and also prevents a recurrence of the condition. The added advantage of these medicines is that they do not exhibit any major toxicity even if used for prolonged periods and in high doses.
Some medicines useful in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer include Gokshur (Tribulus terrestris), Varun (Craetea nurvala), Saariva (Hemidesmus indicus), Manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia), Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Gokshuradi Guggulu, Chandraprabha Vati, Kanchnaar Guggulu, and Maha-Manjishthadi Qadha. The combination of Ayurvedic herbal and herbo-mineral medicines has to be tailor-made according to the presentation of symptoms and the severity of the tumour in each individual. Ayurvedic treatment normally needs to be given for about 9 to12 months in order to bring about significant remission of advanced prostate cancer, as well as prevent or treat metastatic tumour. The judicious use of Ayurvedic medicines can significantly improve quality of life and the overall life span of individuals affected with advanced disease.
Such Ayurvedic herbal and herbo-mineral combinations are equally useful in patients with recurrent prostate cancer; in such individuals, immunomodulatory treatment acquires special significance, since a strong immune system helps to fight against the tumour and prevents spread or recurrence. Needless to say, Ayurvedic treatment can prove to be most useful when started at the earliest possible, and therefore it would be logical to initiate this treatment along with other conventional treatment even for individuals having localised or low-risk prostate cancer.
Ayurvedic herbal treatment thus has a definite role to play in the management and treatment of advanced prostate cancer.