Black Salve: (Evidence)

“Despite warnings from the American Academy of Dermatology, and being listed as a ‘fake cancer cure’ by the FDA, [so-called] ‘black salve’ is still promoted on the internet through anecdot[al] and unsubstantiated claims as a natural alternative remedy for skin cancer.” It typically contains a caustic chemical, called zinc chloride, and bloodroot, a native herb that can be like poison ivy on steroids. It’s ironic that people seek it out as a “natural therapy” when it may mostly just be a stew of caustic chemicals that together form a “corrosive” paste that “indiscriminately damag[es] healthy and diseased tissue alike.”

But, that’s not what the claims on the internet say. Black salve is touted as a selective treatment, only killing off cancer cells and abnormal tissue, when, in fact, in some cases, the exact opposite is true. Some cancer cells resist the damaging effects better than normal cells. Normal skin cells can be more vulnerable to the toxic effects than cancer cells. When tissue samples are taken from black salve treatment lesions, the damage to normal tissue is readily apparent.

It can burn right through and leave you with like an extra nostril, or, even worse, one less nostril. This isn’t just “buyer beware,” but viewer beware, as some of these are graphic images like this, where he like burned half his nose off. Now, on the nose, you can just be left with cosmetic defects, but put it on the face, and it can eat all the way down through an artery. And, the irony of all this is that when asked why users decided to order it off the internet, they said it was because they were fearful of “pain [and] scarring” from “conventional” therapy. But then, you end up with these disfiguring deformities, whereas after conventional treatment, where skin cancers are just surgically removed, about nine out of 10 reported “satisfactory” cosmetic results.

About three-quarters of “black salve users [surveyed] were unaware of the potential [adverse] side effects of black salve treatment.” Yeah, but does it work? “Because of its escharotic [or tissue-sloughing] character, corrosive black salve products may destroy both cancerous and healthy skin to a degree that eradicates a local cancer.” So, who cares if it “leaves an esthetically unpleasing result”?

Well, the problem is that “without a biopsy, there can be no guarantee the cancer has been completely eliminated. If residual cancer cells persist, the risk of recurrence…or metastasis remain[s].” And, that’s probably the biggest concern. See, people think that if the mole or whatever goes away, that means the cancer’s gone, but that may not be the case. “Malignancy may persist under [a] black salve scar tissue and extend [under the skin].”

Here’s a good example to illustrate: a case study of a woman diagnosed with superficial spreading melanoma who decided to go against her dermatologist’s advice and, instead, treat the lesion with black salve. By the time she was seen again, a few years later, it had spread to her lymph nodes, lungs, and liver. Had she been treated earlier and had it removed, her prognosis would have been good: nearly a 90% 10-year disease-free survival. But, once she came back after it had spread, her survival prognosis may have dropped to about two and a half percent. From 90 to two and a half.

And, so, that’s the second irony. “[C]onventional allopathic medicine has [had] an extraordinary proven track record of successful treatment for skin cancer.” It’s one of the few cancers we’re really good at curing, because we can catch it so early because you can see it emerge, and, so, easily cut it out. So, like for basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, conventional surgery has up to a 99% cure rate, squamous cell carcinoma, about 95%, and the most common type of melanoma, up to 90%. “With escharotic therapies [like black salve], there is no scientifically documented proof of efficacy” period, since there have never been any clinical trials. So, all we’re left with are glorified anecdotes ranging from “patient satisfaction,” to “unacceptable scarring,” to “invasive recurrent tumors,” to “ulcer complications,” to “death.”

So, why do people use it? Well, why do cancer patients seek out alternative therapies in general? Yes, some of it is “misinformation.” They’re just duped by snake-oil salesmen. But, a lot of it may be “negative experiences” with the current medical system. Many of those who refused conventional therapies described their oncologists as “intimidating,” “cold,” “uncaring,” “unnecessarily harsh,” “thinking they were God,” who sometimes did “not even know… [their] names.” “Some reported…their physicians became adversarial when questioned about treatment recommendations.” Almost all the conventional-therapy-refusers “described the way they were treated as impersonal, and few believed their doctors were working in their best interests.” So, “they left conventional medicine in search of more caring practitioners.”

Looking back, many “said that had they had a better first experience with their physicians [it] might have made a difference in the treatment path they ultimately chose. They said they would have been more likely to accept conventional treatment earlier had they felt they had caring physicians who [treated them with respect].”

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