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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 526-527

Mythology and evidence-based oncology: An indivisible link

Department of Radiation Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication25-Jul-2016

Correspondence Address:
Jai Prakash Agarwal
Department of Radiation Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0973-1482.140980

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 > Abstract 

Religion has an important role in the birth of medicine and shares a long history. Contradiction has separated spirituality and medicine. For so many years, the spiritual dimension of medicine was seen as unnecessary and inappropriate. However times are changing again and since the last few decades, recent literature and various ongoing studies have focused on unmet spiritual needs of physician and patient. This article focuses on the rejuvenating link between medicine and spirituality.

Keywords: Evidence based oncology, link, mythology

How to cite this article:
Rathod S, Agarwal JP, Munshi A. Mythology and evidence-based oncology: An indivisible link. J Can Res Ther 2016;12:526-7

How to cite this URL:
Rathod S, Agarwal JP, Munshi A. Mythology and evidence-based oncology: An indivisible link. J Can Res Ther [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Sep 28];12:526-7. Available from: https://www.cancerjournal.net/text.asp?2016/12/2/526/140980

 > Introduction Top

“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease” - Hippocrates (460-356 BC).

Religion and medicine have a very long and intertwined history, going back thousands of years and sharing many very strong similarities. Religion had an essential part in the birth of ancient medicine and medicine interacts with the spiritual-religious dominion. Human societies have beliefs that provide explanations and responses to birth, death and disease.

The Greek god, Zeus was worshiped as the protector of health in mythology. The concept of two parts of human body, visible belonging to earth core and soul belonging to heaven was led by Paracelsus (1493-1541), a physician and alchemist.[1] According to Hindu mythology, Dhanvantari, one of the early medical practitioners and world's first surgeons is considered as a form of Hindu deity, Vishnu. The foundation of modern medicine can be found with the ancient Greeks.[2] Ancient Greece created two types of medicine. First, a priestly religious one, with the God Asclepius and temple treatment, and second, a rational one formed by Hippocrates. In the temple of Asclepius, prayers, sacrifices, offerings and magical rituals began to be associated with medical practical exercise and rational therapeutic system.

Over the centuries, contradiction developed and it caused a separation of religious and scientific (physicians and scientists) individuals. Religious persons addressed spiritual concerns, whereas physicians and scientists addressed the physical concerns. With scientific development evidence-based medical practices were adapted. Most physicians view that assessing patients' spiritual beliefs was unnecessary and inappropriate. However, times are changing again.

A recent survey poll showed that religion, one expression of spirituality, plays a central role even in the capitalistic-driven society of many Americans.[3] A number of studies suggest that mortality is reduced among those who attend worship services more frequently, compared to those who do not attend worship services.[4] In another survey, the majority of people polled felt that doctors should talk with their patients about spiritual concerns, but only 10% doctors had discussed such issues.[5] Spirituality has long been overlooked in medical school curricula and medical care. In the last few years, interest regarding spirituality has re-grown and more than 70 medical schools in the United States offer courses on spirituality and medicine.[6],[7]

It might seem paradoxical, but we are using symbols and logos of divine forces in our practices regularly, i.e. Indian Medical Association and Association of Radiation Oncologist to name a few. Even though we opted science in our practice, we never separated ourselves from those signs and symbols. The commonly used symbol “Rx” is usually said to stand for the Latin word “recipe” meaning “to take,” but rarely few modern evidence-based practicing oncologist knows that it was actually derived from the astrological sign for Jupiter, which was once placed on prescriptions to invoke god's blessing on the drug to help the patient recover. The symbol of the serpent intertwined around the rod of Asclepius denoted the idea that serpents could renovate themselves (stem cells) and had the capacity of finding out the healing power of plants.[8] Even the radiation therapy machine has been named after Greek god Janus.and so on. Pulse examination can be traced back to Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old Indian medical science, as Nadipariksha created by Lord Brahma.

Hindu deity Shiva, destroyer and simultaneously a creator, can be designated as the epitome of modern radiation oncology. With radiation therapy, the aim is to kill the cancerous cells. Though healthy normal tissues also get irradiated, they recover. Similarly, Lord Shiva, in his main responsibility of maintaining the cycle of life, destroys everything with his Trident (photons/X-rays) and with his fundamental powers of will, knowledge and action, in the role of Shankara, recovers what has been destroyed, the triumph over the evil.

Lord Shiva is the only deity who is portrayed to be forever in deep meditation. His mystic meditation position can be paralleled with strict patient immobilization, the prerequisite in accurate radiation delivery. The two alienated sides of his drum represent two states of existence, the resonant sound being produced between them when the drum is shaken. The therapeutic outcome of modern radiotherapy similarly results from the opposing states of effect and toxicity. In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva had to drink poison to save mankind, which turned him Nilkanth (blue throat). Could radiation toxicity be compared to this – A side effect of doing the greater good of saving life? The third eye on Shiva's forehead can be simply understood by image guidance and verification, which is essential in modern radiotherapy practice. Drawing such collaterals between spiritual symbolism and modern-day relevance requires only keen observation.

With change in thinking pattern, it is becoming increasingly critical to listen to the patient with empathy and respect, and to learn about the patient's needs, fears, dreams, hopes and expectations. It is important to know who one's patients are, rather just what their disease is. Spiritual dimension is one aid toward this goal.

As a result of this unmet need, various trials are being actively conducted in the western world, studying oncology with spirituality, yoga, hypnosis, etc., This may be a bridge for trustful and meaningful relationship. This is being at the heart of patient-centered rather than disease-centered medicine. Physicians by recognizing the spiritual dimension of our professional lives can reclaim the spiritual roots of our practice, compassion and service. This is one way to bring compassion back into the art and science of medicine; fulfill unmet needs of incorporating spirituality.

 > References Top

Debus AG. Paracelsus and the chemical revolution in sixteenth-century medicine. Gaz Grolier Club 2002;53:49-70.  Back to cited text no. 1
Marketos SG, Poulakou-Rebelakou E. Traditional medicine in ancient Greece (coexistence of Asclepian art and Hippocratic medicine). Przegl Lek 1995;52:612-4.  Back to cited text no. 2
Barnett KG, Fortin AH 6th. Spirituality and medicine: A workshop for medical students and residents. J Gen Intern Med 2006;21:481-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Oxman TE, Freeman DH Jr, Manheimer ED. Lack of social participation or religious strength and comfort as risk factors for death after cardiac surgery in the elderly. Psychosom Med 1995;57:5-15.  Back to cited text no. 4
McNichol T. The new faith in medicine. USA Today. Weekend 1996 April 5-7:4-5.  Back to cited text no. 5
Puchalski CM, Larson DB. Developing curricula in spirituality and medicine. Acad Med 1998;73:970-4.  Back to cited text no. 6
Levin JS, Larson DB, Puchalski CM. Religion and spirituality in medicine: Research and education. JAMA 1997;278:792-3.  Back to cited text no. 7
Subbarayappa BV. The roots of ancient medicine: An historical outline. J Biosci 2001;26:135-43.  Back to cited text no. 8


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