Jun 21 2013

Black Salve is Quackery

I received this question from an SGU listener:

I’ve been listening to your show for years now, thanks for brightening my life. 🙂
I have a question about an alternative cancer treatment my mother has started using to treat ‘skin cancer’ on her face (undiagnosed). It is called Black Salve and people claim it removes the cancerous cells from your flesh without damaging healthy cells. The ‘cancer’ literally falls out of your skin.
Do you know anything about this? What is your view on this treatment?

Thanks again for a great show.

I get similar questions almost every day. There appears to be an endless supply of dubious health claims and products – far more than any one person can deal with, with new ones popping up so fast it is a losing game of whack-a-mole. This is why I strongly advocate more effective regulation.

(warning: graphic picture below the fold)

Meanwhile, my colleagues and I are trying to develop resources on the internet to combat the steady flow of medical nonsense. While that is in the works, there are some existing resource, like the Science-Based Medicine website. There is also QuackWatch, run by Stephen Barrett. He has spent years writing and editing articles, and by now most topics are covered fairly well on the site.

QuackWatch has an excellent article on Black Salves, which I suggest you simply read in its entirety. I will add some additional resources.

The bottom line is that Black Salve is a general name for a topical ointment that is corrosive and is used to burn away skin lesions, including cancer. There are no proper scientific studies of its safety and efficacy, and the exact ingredients are formulas vary and are often not known.

The idea that such corrosives kill cancer cells but do not harm healthy skin cells is false. There is not justification for this claim. The notion that such ointments draw out cancer cells or cause them to “fall out of the skin” is beyond false – it’s absurd.

Self-treatment for skin cancer or lesions with such salves is likely to cause unnecessary damage to healthy tissue. Dr. Barrett includes some example, and here is another from a recently published study (sorry, it may be behind a paywall). It documents the case of a patient who burned half his nose away with a black salve. I apologize for the picture, but it’s important for people to see what we are talking about, and most people will not be able to access this article.

Further – such self-treatment is completely unnecessary. Skin cancers are almost 100% curable with modern treatments, which are designed to minimize any scarring. Here we have a case of a condition that is successfully treated with modern medicine, and yet some people are opting for outdated treatments that may not be effective and cause significant harm.

Such unfortunate decisions are promoted by advocates of black salve, who either are selling a product or seem to have a certain ideological position. Unsurprisingly, NaturalNews is promoting “Indian Black Salve” as a “magical cancer cure.” This salve contains bloodroot, which is used as a corrosive agent. Of course, they claim it targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone (false), they promote it with the naturalistic fallacy, and they claim it is rejected by the FDA and mainstream doctors because it is all natural and cannot be patented. All absurd claims.

The only good advice is to stay completely away from black salve. Avail yourself of modern medicine if you have a suspicious skin lesion or known skin cancer.

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