Can black salve cure skin cancer?

There is often a lot of speculation about "alternative therapies" and their place in treating various medical conditions. For skin cancer, one of the most prominent dangerous self-treatments is black salve, commonly marketed as Cansema. The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) prohibited the sale of black salve in Australia in 2012 due to a lack of evidence that it is beneficial for treating skin cancer. In fact, documented evidence suggests its use could be doing more harm than good. So what should you know about black salve?

What is black salve?

Black salve is a controversial self-treatment derived from a flowering plant commonly known as blood root. Blood root is a strong escharotic, meaning it is a caustic and destructive material.

While some alternative medicine practitioners claim that black salve will only destroy damaged skin cells, there is no scientific evidence to support this. Instead, evidence suggests these caustic agents will indiscriminately destroy all cells – including the healthy ones – causing ulcers and scarring that can prevent pathologists making a confident diagnosis when examining a tumour sample under the microscope.

This means your skin cancer might not be destroyed, and it will be hard to diagnose if it hasn't.

Does black salve cure cancer?

To date, there have not been any studies that compare the effectiveness of black salve to conventional skin cancer treatment. Some cancers are in fact resistant to black salve.

Is black salve dangerous?

While direct damage to healthy skin cells caused by black salve is concerning, the biggest danger associated with this product is the loss of valuable treatment time with proven treatments for skin cancer. The consequences of this could be significant in the case of a more aggressive skin cancer.

Case studies have reported death from metastatic nasal basal cell carcinoma and development of metastatic melanoma following self-treatment with black salve.

Can I use black salve on my moles if I think I have skin cancer?

If you suspect you may have skin cancer it is important to get a professional skin check by a trained and qualified doctors as soon as possible. The skin check will allow for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Most skin cancers are curable if they are identified and treated quickly, so it’s important not to waste time with unproven alternative therapies.

If you’re due for a skin check, or have a mole or skin spot that is causing you concern, please book an appointment with our team.

Blog credit: From Dr Helena Rosengren |