DIY Herbal Skin Cancer Treatment?

Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer diagnosis in the United States. One risk factor for the development of skin cancer is abnormal skin growths, such as moles and skin tags. Another is the presence of red, patchy skin indicating precancerous skin cells damaged by ultraviolet light, a condition known as actinic keratosis.

Most people don’t regularly visit a dermatologist for a whole body scan. Areas of suspicious precancerous growth are either discovered during an annual physical or noticed at home. 

It’s a good idea to perform regular self-checks for questionable areas of skin growth. When doing a self-check, evaluate any questionable areas for changes or inconsistencies using the ABCD test:

A = asymmetry 
B = border
C = color
D = diameter 

For instance, if a mole that has looked the same for years starts to grow larger, have an irregular or jagged border, or change color, it is advisable to visit a dermatologist for a possible biopsy of the area to differentiate malignancy from benign growth.

If the growth is malignant, surgical removal and/or radiation may be recommended. This is the standard of care in conventional oncology, though I have come across several claims of natural, topical treatments for skin cancer. One of those is a preparation called black salve that contains the herb bloodroot and zinc chloride, among other caustic ingredients.

I have never been diagnosed with any form of skin cancer (my body prefers non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), but I do have plenty of moles decorating my fair skin. I was curious to test the claim of black salve to remove an abnormal skin growth and decided to experiment on myself for the sake of science and the edification of my inquisitive readers. What follows is an account of my self-experimentation—and success—with using black salve to remove a large mole on the upper right quadrant of my chest. I make no claims, implied or experientially, that black salve could offer analogous success for the treatment of skin cancer.

Here is the procedure I followed, composed as if I was instructing myself through the process:

© Brandon LaGreca

  • Step 1 — Prepare the mole for herbal excision by roughing up the surface of the mole with something abrasive, such as a nail file, to open the pores and alert the nervous system. Micro-abrasion allows the herbal salve to efficiently penetrate the surface cells and access the roots.
  • Step 2 — Apply a small amount of black salve to the surface of the mole only, being careful not to get any on the fingers or the healthy skin around the mole. A toothpick works well for this degree of precision.
  • Step 3 — Gently cover the area with a bandage. If the layer of salve is too thick, it will squish outward and touch the surrounding healthy tissue. If this happens, remove the bandage and clean the area with damp cotton swabs. After the area dries, try again with less black salve.

    © Brandon LaGreca

  • Step 4 — Leave it alone for two days and try not to remove the bandage. The area may be a little tender or even tingly. If you have any concern (intuitively or due to a burning sensation), peel the bandage back and check the surrounding tissue. It is normal for the border of the mole to have a red ring of inflammation, but it should not extend into healthy tissue. If that happens, check the bandage to ensure the black salve has not come in contact with healthy skin.
  • Step 5 — After two days, remove the bandage and gently clean the area in the shower with soap and water. If desired, apply a healing salve to the edge of the now darkening mole tissue to heal any residual inflammation in the healthy tissue that may have come in contact with the black salve. Over the course of a few weeks, the mole will turn black and fall off, leaving a crater that the body will fill in with healthy tissue. Avoid the temptation to pick at and remove the scab. Let it fall off naturally. As the body generates healthy skin tissue, the walled-off, dead mole tissue will get pushed out as the area underneath heals.

    © Brandon LaGreca

  • Step 6 — Once the dead tissue falls off, apply a healing salve on the new, healthy tissue to discourage scarring. If the area persists in looking red or gnarly, consider cold laser therapy to treat potential scarring.

This process was clean and efficient, resulting in only the slightest hint of scarring. I’m not sure a surgeon’s scalpel could have done as neat a job. Black salve is widely available online and marketed for the treatment of skin cancer, but I can’t comment on its efficacy for this purpose as I was only treating a mole with an appearance that had not changed in recent memory. 

This experience has piqued my curiosity about alternative treatments for skin cancer, though the standard line from medical research is to strongly warn against self-treatment with black salve. There is at least one case study of treatment purportedly going awry.

© Brandon LaGreca

Interestingly, black salve is one of several alternative skin cancer treatments. Critics politically railroaded Harry Hoxsey instead of medically testing his alternative cancer cures. Looking back at Hoxsey’s story, his version of a topical herbal treatment for skin cancer consistently cured patients.

In Europe, the oncolytic viral therapy Rigvir® was developed and approved in Latvia, Georgia, Armenia, and Uzbekistan to treat melanoma, yet research and adoption by conventional oncology in the U.S. is nonexistent.

Whether topical or internal, it seems self-evident — at least to me — that skin cancer should be easier to treat naturally because of how efficiently remedies can be applied to the area. Some tumors are deep within the body and evade detection and removal by the immune system, but skin malignancies are visible and accessible. Sun, oxygen, and topical treatments can all be directly applied to the area alongside internal immune-regulating therapies.

As for the controversy regarding sun exposure and increased risk of melanoma, some evidence suggests that, barring a sunburn, regular sun exposure may help prevent melanoma and a number of other cancers, such as breast, colon, and prostate cancer as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Optimal vitamin D production is but one of several proposed mechanisms for this reduction in cancer incidence with safe sun exposure.

Ultimately, I agree with the conclusion of a review of black salve published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The authors state, “The concept of black salve as a cancer treatment is not unfounded, as some escharotics agents have been shown to have anticarcinogenic properties, but randomized controlled trials comparing them to standard therapies are lacking.”

The best way to protect the public is to provide evidenced-based natural options through rigorous research of holistic remedies. Without the ability to patent, market, and make a profit from the sale of black salve, that research may not take place and patients will continue to self-experiment outside of medical supervision.

Author: Brandon LaGreca, LAc

Brandon is the founder and director of East Troy Acupuncture, an integrative medical clinic serving southeast Wisconsin, where he specializes in whole-food nutrition, ancestral health, and environmental medicine.

January 18, 2020

Categories: Cancer

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