Cutting, poisoning, and burning naturally

Not too long ago, a reader asked me about black salve, and then not too long later I saw a commenter mention black salve. It occurs to me that, in all the years I've been doing this blog and my other blog, I don't think I've ever actually written about black salve, except in passing. So I searched the blog, and my memory appears to be correct about this. I really haven't written much about black salve. It's been mentioned several times, but I haven't really dedicated a post to it, even though that wretchedest of wretched hives of scum and quackery,, has promoted black salve in the not-too-distant past. But what is this mysterious black salve?

In brief, it's a caustic substance. Usually, it's derived from bloodroot, but it can also be made from zinc oxide or various herbs. The claim that you will hear from advocates of black salve make is that it somehow "draws out the cancer" if you either apply it as a paste over a tumor, such as a skin cancer, cancerous lymph nodes, or a soft tissue cancer such as a sarcoma. Most commonly, you see it used for melanoma. It can even work sometimes. Unfortunately, it's how black salve works that is problematic. Even its proponents admit that it's nasty. For example, look at this description of The Indian Herb, which is a different name for black salve:

The Indian Herb is a perfectly balanced vitamin and mineral substance which is not harmful to the body in any way. It balances metabolism and any blood disorders. It is a dark, semi-liquid paste. The herbal paste may be taken orally or applied directly to surface tumors and cancers.

Indian Herb is not a gentle healer. In most reported cases, it is a relentless substance which hunts down and penetrates all abnormal tissues. Pain, swelling, and sometimes fever is associated during its use.

No kidding! You will see. The problem is that it also "penetrates all normal tissues, too." It is completely nonselective.

You will often hear proponents of alternative cancer cures lambaste conventional, science-based medicine as "cut, poison, burn." Keep that in mind a second as I describe what black salve does. Basically, if you place it on the skin, black salve burns. It's highly caustic. It is, in essence, a "natural" version of "cut, poison, burn," because it burns and poisons the skin, which then forms an eschar, which is a thick, dry scab on the skin composed of—you guessed it!—burned epidermis and dermis. Black salve, in essence, works by producing a second or third degree burn, a second degree burn being a burn that extends into the dermis (the layer of the skin below the external-most layer, the epidermis) and a third degree burn extending completely through the dermis. If you have a melanoma or other skin cancer that does not extend deeper than the dermis, then black salve can indeed burn it away. However, in doing so, it also burns away a lot of normal surrounding skin. Compared to a surgical excision, with the skin edges nicely approximated, that leads to a lot of scarring and deformity. Even in the unusual cases in which black salve can actually get rid of a skin cancer, it's a profoundly stupid way to go, because it's imprecise, might not get the whole tumor, and leaves potentially horrendous scars. Quackwatch has an article on black salve that shows a woman with her nose and the entire middle section of her face burned off as a result of a naturopath using black salve on her.

So when black salve seems to work, it does so in a much less precise manner, with far more tissue destruction leading to severe scarring than a decent surgeon would ever allow. However, what about the other claim that it "draws out the cancer"? For instance, I have heard of black salve being used to treat breast cancer, cancerous lymph nodes, and sarcomas, all of which could be palpated or seen through the skin. A reader sent me an example of this a few days ago, and I decided I should discuss it. Be aware, however, that some of these pictures might be too disgusting for some readers; so don't say you haven't been warned. If you're not up to the task of looking at these pictures, then don't click on the links. It's the story of a young woman named Lisa. Lisa now has stage IV melanoma, and her basic story is recounted here.

Basically, back in 2000, Lisa developed a mole that was eventually excised and found to be a stage I melanoma. Nearly nine years later, she noticed a lump under her arm, which turned out to be a lymph node with melanoma in it. She underwent an axillary dissection (removal of all the axillary lymph nodes) and was found to have only one out of 18 lymph nodes involved with tumor. She underwent radiation therapy, and the combination of radiation and surgery left her with a shoulder with limited range of motion. She also underwent a month-long course of adjuvant interferon (which is actually rather short). Then in February 2010, she was found to have tumors in her spleen and pelvis. It was at this point that an acupuncturist turned her on to the first of many "natural" cures for her cancer. I don't know if this acupuncturist turned her on to black salve, but she discovered it, and wrote a blog post about using it. She also went on a clinical trial of ipilimumab, which was approved by the FDA in 2011 to treat advanced stage melanoma. So, as of early 2011, Lisa reported:

Currently my scans are mixed....some areas went away completely, other remained the same, and 2 got slightly larger. I decided to step up my "A" game and really start researching and doing whatever I had to in order to make this melanoma go away. If other people did it I could totally do it. And this, my friends, is what the remainder of my blog will be about.

So in May 2012, Lisa described her use of black salve. Basically, she had developed a tumor under left arm. (Her axillary dissection was on her right.) This tumor was consistent with melanoma in her lymph node. So she decided to try to draw out the tumor using black salve. As I said before, she published pictures, which don't bother me (but, then, I'm a surgeon) but might be disturbing to some of you. Click on the link and scroll with care. These picture document the burning of the skin, which continued deeper and deeper, to the point where chunks of necrotic skin and lymph node were falling off of her. One picture in particular shows a large area of black, burnt eschar involving most of the skin under her arm. Eventually, as they often do for burns, the eschar started to lift leading to a raw, denuded area, which is, of course, how full thickness burns heal. The dead skin falls off, leaving the underlying tissue exposed, which then heals in from the inside out, both at the bottom and in from the edges of the incision. In essence, Lisa gave herself a big, disgusting, open wound. Even Lisa writes at one point that it was "nasty as hell" and "I don't have to explain to you how painful this was." Of that, I have no doubt.

Worse, the black salve failed to get rid of the tumor:

With much thought, research, consulting, and contemplation, I decided to go for surgery. The lymph node swollen underneath (that was new with the use of salve) freaked me out. However, the way it was explained to me by holistic docs and Fred was that the lymph system was backed up due to trying to get rid of this cancerous tissue. Due to the lymph being blocked the fluid was building up in my lymph system causing the lymph nodes to becomes inflamed (not necessarily cancerous). That definatly put my mind at ease. So anyways, yesterday I had whatever was effected taken out. Dr Beg agreed to just take out what was wreaking havoc and maintain as much tissue and mobility that he can. The surgery was in and out...took about three hours. I have a small drain to get rid of any excess blood. Tomorrow I will go to Dr. Beg and get the drain removed and a bandage change. Pathology reports in about a week to see what exactly were in those bastards.

Here's a hint. A surgery that takes three hours is not really "in and out," unless by "in and out" Lisa meant that they sent her home the same day. I can do a modified radical mastectomy (a mastectomy and axillary dissection) in less than two hours. What this suggests to me is that it was not a simple matter to excise this cancerous lymph node and required considerable skill and patience, most likely because of the tissue necrosis and scarring, which likely required considerable debridement of nonviable tissue.

In any case, I can only imagine the horror Dr. Beg likely felt when he saw what his patient had been doing. He is, after all, a real surgical oncologist who practices evidence-based medicine. On the other hand, I have to give him props for persuading Lisa to let him excise the nasty, cancerous mass and talking her into letting him do more if he found more. He must have a highly understanding and nonjudgmental bedside manner. Let's just put it this way. Lisa went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which wasn't woo enough for her:

Okay, so I went to Philadelphia to the cancer treatment center of america and as much as I wasn’t impressed I don’t want to say the place was horrible. After two solid years of doing hardcore holistic and integrative approach, an offering of being blasted with chemo with a side of a little acupuncture and reiki is not my idea of holistic or integrative treatment.

As for the surgeon, he recommended that she undergo an axillary dissection (I had to read between the lines of Lisa's account), which was probably appropriate when a lymph node in the axilla is involved with melanoma, although in the case of someone with stage IV disease, where surgery would not be curative, I'm not sure that it would be absolutely necessary. In fact, to me it's rather odd that CTCA would offer the more radical surgery than the surgical oncologist not practicing at an institution like CTCA that is steeped in woo and selection bias. Besides, sometimes you are forced to do only as much as the patient will let you, and getting that ugly, necrotic mess from under Lisa's arm resected was more important than oncological "purity."

I also find Lisa's case a bit confusing after having read several of her blog entries. For instance, she had a splenectomy, and it's not entirely clear whether she actually had tumor in her pelvis (or her hip, as she refers to it). The reason this matters is that stage IV melanoma can sometimes be cured (or at least long term remissions induced) with surgery. If the melanoma tumors can be completely removed, there is a small chance for cure. Lisa had her spleen removed, getting rid of that tumor, and she also had that tumor under her arm removed. If she didn't really have tumor in her pelvis (which couldn't be removed surgically), then it's possible that the surgeries to remove her tumors might have cured her. (I left out a part where apparently tumors were seen on one ultrasound of her liver and not on another.)Certainly the black salve and other "alternative" treatments she pursued have not. Even if she did have cancer in her pelvis, melanoma is a notoriously fickle cancer, which can have highly variable behavior. Naturally, I hope Lisa's situation is the former and not the latter, because in the former case she might have a chance at long term survival. Perhaps at some point I'll go over this case in more detail, as the sheer number of quackeries and the rationale for them are huge. (There's even live blood analysis and a discussion of how the meridians of the teeth affect the meridians of the body!) This time around, I was more interested in the black salve.

Whatever the reason for Lisa's continued survival, I wish her well and hope she continues to do well. However, I also hope that she never again uses black salve, which clearly didn't help her and, to me at least, equally clearly harmed her. It's a brutal, nasty treatment that is even nastier and more brutal than even a typical warped Mike Adams fantasy about how horrible conventional treatments are. There's no reason ever to use it unless you like being badly burned, both figuratively and literally.

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Curse my vivid imagination! I didn't even click on the links and felt sick from the bare bones description!

The pain must have been horrible. I had small scale third degree burns before.* They hurt a lot. But they were small, on the back of my hand or finger so didn't get moved too much and were easy to keep covered. And easy to keep clean!

A large are burn like this must be horrible.

*Ovens are hot...

There's a poster over at Josephine Jones' blog, who claims to have cured herself of a thirty-year case of breast cancer using black salve.

There's about 1000 comments so I haven't had time to read them all (let alone comment!) but this poster offers, as proof of the fact that she's "healed", the fact that one breast has inverted entirely.

You don't have to be Orac to know that there's no way that's a good sign.

Oh, and the idea of eating black salve?

In an elburto first - no words.

Oh dear. I went to Josephine Jones' blog and read some of Michele's comments. She actually boasts that using the black salve gave her a mastectomy, without any of that nasty cutting and chemotherapy. But of course, the black salve she used was the real deal, which only kills cancer cells. Not at all like the fake "invented" stuff that Quackwatch tested.
Words fail me.

So burning of a breast with a caustic substance, is to be prefered over the scalptel-work of a surgeon, who gives you anaesthetics (I know the anaestetics part is done by a seperate person)?
It sounds like burning stupid to me and I really would prefer the work of a surgeon, which at least will be less painfull.

Ah yes, dear ol' Michele. Elburto beat me to it, but she's one of the most extreme examples of a conspiracy theorist I've ever encountered since entering this wonderful world of woo. She'll believe anything except what scientists and doctors say. I've tried a few times to point out how the sources she cites are not credible but she just keeps spouting the same nonsense that everyone is lying except the alt peddlars.

She too has posted grotesque YouTube videos of her "removing her tumour" with BS. Black salve, that is.

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Make that peddler. I hit 'submit" too quickly.

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

The last time I looked you could actually buy black salve on the US verson of amazon.

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Make that peddler. I hit ‘submit” too quickly.
"Pedlar" was good enough for Thomas Beddoes so it's good enough for me.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

This was very interesting because back in the Dark Ages, when I was a girl, my Dad used to expound on the wonders of Black Salve and I'm sure used it at one time or another, although never on me. I believe it was his preferred cure for boils. Fortunately, in his later years, he latched onto Bactine as his cure all for everything. Reading this, it's a wonder he never caused himself any real damage with the Black Salve!

If you read some of the user comments on amazon people swear by it for boils, warts, splinters and other superficial skin conditions.

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

@ Renate: Now I'm wondering what kind of pain relief she used. She would have been in a lot of pain for a very long time and chronic pain is very bad for your health. You never get enough good sleep, you're constantly stressed, constantly tired, you get depression and lose your appetite; you may be unable to work, resulting in further stress. Yet she claims to be healthier than ever.
So maybe she wasn't using the fake Black Salve that Orac is writing about?

Black salve? Well don't look at me. The only black salve I ever used was "icky ointment" (ichthammol). Really common stuff when I was a kid.

I thought I was read up on the alternative "cures" for cancer, because I'd read about MMS and coffee enemas. I see now that I was missing a whole world of crazy.

I very much prefer my cleanly cut mastectomy to giving myself third degree burns, and the "burn" portion of my treatment never progressed beyond mild second degree, and everyone agreed that was unusual, and needed treatment to heal properly (which it has).

By Elizabeth A (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

C'mon everybody. We all know it's really Windex that is the cure-all for everything!

--Gus Portokalos

By Nick Theodorakis (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

@Nick - don't forget WD-40

The Indian Herb ... is not harmful to the body in any way.... Pain, swelling, and sometimes fever is associated during its use.

So in one breath they say this stuff is harmless, and in the next they list some significant side effects. This is evidently some usage of "harmless" of which I was previously unaware.

Renate @6: [Mastectomy by black salve] sounds like burning stupid to me

I see what you did there.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

It puts the black salve on its skin,
and lets the awful burn begin.

Lest it thinks around I'm jerking,
it only hurts because it's working.

If the cancer is not gone,
just heap some more of it on.

With gritted teeth and a screeching din,
it puts the black salve on its skin.

By ConspicuousCarl (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Pris: Join the club. I feel ill. This is worse than the flouride discussions. (I can't think for very long about teeth and all the things that go wrong with them without getting seriously icked out)

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Thanks Orac. That answers some questions. The idea that it will supposedly eat through to sub-surface cancers certainly shows that the notion of it only affecting cancerous cells is bunkum.

@Andy - and applying gasoline or Sterno directly to the skin & setting it on fire will have the same

There's an Australian-based black salve Facebook page. Someone recently asked on there if vomiting blood was normal after ingesting black salve.

After all, if you're vomiting blood, Facebook is your friend.

*cringe* I'm at work, so can't click through, but even though I have a strong stomach and a fascination with medical stuff, I am hesitant in any case....

I could maybe see black salve, if applied VERY carefully, as an alternative to silver nitrate. Since it is basically doing the same thing. But man, when I've had silver nitrate applied to canker sores, it did work, but hurt so badly that I generally would rather just deal with the original sore. Cautery cuts the recovery time, but hurts so much that I'll generally favor the longer recovery. The idea of someone doing *that* to large parts of their body, over a long period of time, to avoid *surgery* is . . . well, it's insane! Most woo I can understand as just people not wanting to hurt and being misled. But this stuff has got to be excruciating, and excruciating for a long period of time. I do not get it.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

I didn't look at any linked images yet, not because I lack morbid curiosity but because I have already seen YouTube videos of people showing off their results. The claim that it only affects cancer and not healthy cells is circularly confirmed by pointing to any burned tissue and declaring it to be cancer. Bubbling fizz of burning skin? That's the cancer trying to escape. Huge glob of gray puss? That's the cancer getting pushed out. Huge open wound with a dry burned black chunk in the middle? That's the healthy tissue retreating away from the cancer.

By ConspicuousCarl (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Don't forget that Mike Adams also championed the cause of Greg Caton, black salve merchant, who was "persecuted" by governmental storm troopers all the way to his hide-out in Central America and taken captive by them.

I think it's appropriate to tell another melanoma story:
my cousin William, a handsome, fair-haired businessman, took his kids to a resort in Spain- after swimming, his young daughter said he had a "black mark" on his waist.

He found out that it was indeed melanoma and had to undergo standard SB treatment- including removal of a great deal of tissue around the tiny spot. He had routine follow-ups over the years and has been fine. He travels a lot because his now grown-up kids work in different countries. He also avoids the sun like the plague.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Didn't click the links - I've seen the black salve photos on Quackwatch and the mere memory is making me a little faint. I'm just floored at the massive cognitive dissonance on display. On the one hand these people rant about evil cancer doctors "cutting, poisoning and burning", yet they have no problem self-treating with a substance that indiscriminately burns through everything and causes terrible pain and inflammation. At least Lisa finally had the sense to see a real doctor and he was able to convince her to get effective treatment before she did too much further damage to herself. I hope she's learned the right lesson from her experience.

This also hits home because I'm high risk for malignant melanoma - my father had a small melanoma removed from his upper arm 5 or 6 years ago. Fortunately the lymph node biopsy was negative and he has not had a recurrence.

I am also a super-fair-skinned Caucasian who routinely got sunburned as a child, but I actually paid attention when the research started coming out about sun damage and cancer risks in the '80s and have been wearing sunscreen year round for a couple of decades. I have a few friends who believe Mercola's nonsense about sunscreens being toxic -- I always invite them to inspect my middle-aged but still relatively unlined skin and ask if it looks "unhealthy" to them.

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

A salve cookie, please.

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

@Edith - Yeah, same here. My natural skin colour is blue, the Day Star is mine enemy. I remember once walking what... four metres across a road in Turkey, and getting burned.

It was from under the hotel's canopy to the shop directly across the road, I was fully clothed in an ankle-length skirt, a hat, and a 3/4 sleeved shirt. Half an hour later I was the colour of Elmo. That's what I get for only wearing factor 20.

I invested in a full sunblock that looked like white gloss paint, made me look like Casper the ghost, but it was waterproof and kept me safe in my preferred habitat, the water.

Other Mrs elburto is ginger and she has darker skin than me, a fact that she finds hysterically funny!

Back to the escharotics,
I think I must be totally desensitised after 17 years online, because Lisa's pictures and those on Quackwatch and Whatstheharm just fascinate, rather than repelling me. I also don't know how anyone could see them and deny that healthy cells can't be hurt! Yeah, tell that to the women without noses.

Even its proponents admit that it’s nasty. For example, look at this description of The Indian Herb, which is a different name for black salve:

Nice page, this is also a nice one from this page:

In the fall of last year my dermatologist found another small basal cell on my scalp and wanted me to have surgery again. I also had two small growths, one on my back and one on my arm close to the spot I had had removed before.

I decided to take these problems to my homeopathic/naturalist doctor whom I had only discovered the previous year. He recommended Indian Herb made by a company called McDaniel Water in Dimmitt, Tx.
I took it internally (wrapped in a small piece of bread after breakfast) for 20 days, off for 5 days, then again for another 20 days. I had no side effects and no pain of any kind (though I was expecting some). It can also be put into a size 4 capsule and taken if that is easier for you. I could not find any capsules locally so I used bread.

Eating it, to get rid of something on your skin? Sounds like a great idea. (Well, not really.)

@elburto - ouch! don't even ask what happened the sole time I tried topless sunbathing (I was 18 and on holiday in the south of France, nuff said..)

Other Mrs elburto is ginger and she has darker skin than me, a fact that she finds hysterically funny!

ha! She's probably darker than me too. My paleness is further accented by a head of luxuriant, black-brown, positively Mediterranean hair. I often joke about being so high-contrast that I glow under black light.

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Bread? BREAD?

I would not go near that sh1t wrapped in lead, never mind wolfing it down wrapped in fluffy soft stuff!

@Edith - I can only imagine what your poor boobs felt like, I'm wincing just thinking about it.

We used to holiday in the South of France (the Languedoc region) and my poor juvenile skin suffered badly. I remember being so blistered on my shoulders that I looked like a Margerita pizza. I used to swim in t-shirts and still got roasted.

elburtobro is darker, despite our mother being ginger and dad being super pale too. The bro is blue-eyed and light-skinned but he tans like a mofo. France was the exception. He once got a hip-to-hip blister on his back that was two inches wide and about an inch high. It was just horrible! It took months to heal.

That was about (bloody hell I'm old!) 25 years ago, and I remember it like yesterday. Bro doesn't think sunburn is a serious thing, still rubbishes the idea of sunscreen, and is on a dodgy path indeed.

Well, I've got naturally pinkish skin which tans pretty easily - but I don't do it. Well, I do not put sunscreen on my hands if I just need to walk to the bus or the local shop, but if I go on holiday, I use the same blocker as my husband (reddish hair, pale skin, on medication that lists photosensivity among its side effects). I simply do not think it's worth it.

Sunbathing ain't the thing for me. Did it once, because my boyfriend loved it. Not a great experience.

My father, of German and Norweigan descent (dark hair and fair skin), has what you just described: a thick black scabrous looking area just under the jawline on his right side, near the submandibular lymph nodes. Given that he went for two treatments and two years before telling me he had prostate issues, I really have no information on his melanoma. Without any information on what he is doing to take care of himself and given that he has subscriptions to the Mike Adams newsletter (though he did get proper SB care for his prostate cancer) can anyone give me some resources for researching/understanding his current condition? I really wish I had more to go on but like I said, no one will talk about it. Thanks in advance.

I've actively avoided the sun for well over 30 years and I've developed the resultant look as a fashion statement. I have never had a tan -even a fake one.

My gentlemen are naturally white and ultra-white: the former avoided the sun, the latter didn't and is red year-round with golden-red hair- imagine a guy with naturally blond hair and very light skin who lives in AUS or CA who went surfing for most of his life - except that he doesn't live in AUS or CA or surf- ( it's actually fairly cloudy/ misty here)- but that's what he looks like. He _remarkably_ doesn't look old or wrinkled- just burnt with freckles.

The other has pristine skin and people can't figure out how old he is despite the greying dark hair.

I observed the effects of sun on family members as a child - the really white ones who avoided the sun looked much better than the sun worshippers.

Appealing to people's vanity may be a healthy thing.

It should be noted that having darker skin is not guaranteed protection either although they may appear to age better.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

@ Kelsey:

You need to address the issue directly- although perhaps not today. If he went for SB treatments previously, he may again.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

About time, Orac!

I read about the stuff last year. I couldn't believe that anyone would put a caustic salve on their skin. Or do it more than once.

I'm a dark-skinned Caucasian (dark being a relative term) who grew up in Michigan and never got burned despite spending most of my summers playing outdoors in the days before anyone's mother knew what SPF stood for...then I was stationed on a tropical island for three years.

Wound up in sick bay after my first day at the beach.

..but now we have glorious/hideous pictorial proof.

Whilst I was scrolling through, my son was asking me about the pictures. It was an education for both of us as I tried to explain what was happening in those pictures.
I have a good idea what a full depth chemical burn looks like now.

Ach, I love my outdoor activities, but my pasty white skin does not. Those spray-on sunscreens are my friend - except when I forget to use them!

I feel sorry for the gal, of course - it's a terrible thing to have happen to you, this persistent whack-a-mole (in so many ways) cancer. But this:
"Sure I was a skeptic but reading all the literature"
I kind of doubt. :p

It's interesting how she puts her own narrative onto what's happening to her body. Every bit of dead flesh that falls out is another little bit of cancer. "Look at all of these pieces of cancer that are falling off!"

Also, I noticed that her woo-dispenser left himself with a nice 'out' - telling her she had to apply the salve every day to excise the cancer. So when the pain became too great and she had to stop applying, W-D could just blame her for the woo not working.

"However, going under the knife always has the chance of new complications and I’m not looking forward to another beautiful scar but it is what it is"

Head, meet desk.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

One wonders if it's purely coincidence we seem to have so many regulars here who don't like the Sun here - driven away from the great outdoors by its rays, we naturally congregate about the Intertoobz?

Myself, I'm fairly pale, and sunburn easily, even here in Sweden. The hair on the top of my head has darkened to an nondescript brown*, but my beard has a definite reddish tinge. Never liked sunbathing - apart from sunburn and cancer fears, it's just boring.

Regarding what people will do to avoid SBM "cut, poison, burn", I wonder if one could combine gun nuttery with cancer quackery and have people pay one to shot their tumours with a musket**? It would kill the cancer cells and is most certainly not approved of by pharma shills.

* Americans and southern Europeans have been known to describe it as "blond", but for obvious reasons I distrust their expertise on the subject of blond(e)ness.

** Muskets are, undubitably, more natural than modern guns, which may be afflicted with scientific contaminants like accuracy.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

I'm all too familiar with "black salves" based on bloodroot. But what are the ones Orac refers to that are composed of "other herbs?

What herbs?

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Thing that struck me about Lisa's blog is how nearly illiterate it is. She can't spell and seems to have only a vague idea how punctuation and English orthography works. Given the number of wooey folks I've run into who seem to fit the same demographic, I have to wonder if there really is a correlation, and what's the causative factor if so.

I'm like elburto -- blue. Unfortunately, I've never found a sunscreen that doesn't make me itch like blazes and turn red, or cause violent outbreaks of allergy pimples. Gack. I tend to prefer the "fabric" approach to sunblocking, myself. Given that the last time I went anywhere seriously sunny and was out in the sun, I was in Israel, I just wound up looking like a moderately observant, semi-modestly dressed Jewish woman (I do wear pants most of the time, though).

By Interrobang (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Another way of avoiding modern medicine's cut, poison, and burn: an ophthalmologist once told me that he had a patient, a rancher, who had a lot of small, rounded scars on his face and arms. Puzzled, he asked about it and learned that the man tended to develop skin cancers and, rather than see a doctor, he'd just burn them off with a cigarette.

The claim that it only affects cancer and not healthy cells is circularly confirmed by pointing to any burned tissue and declaring it to be cancer.

If only people could apply the same level of magical thinking and rationalisation to minimise the side-effects of *effective* treatments.
Think of the medical research that could be funded by a tax on every time a wooster describes the signs of self-poisoning as "herx reactions".

the Day Star is mine enemy.
The yellow face! We hates it forever!

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

This woman started off by undergoing multiple rounds of conventional treatment, yet her cancer continued to metastasize. If her oncologist had kindly explained that that meant she was probably going to die of it and might soon be better off to stop chasing a cure and concentrate on wrapping up her life well, is it possible that she'd have accepted that, then not wasted her time, money and health on caustic zinc crud? Did anyone discuss this with her, or, as is common in American cancer treatment, was she just pushed to keep on Doing Everything? Even if that's your preference, including caustic zinc crud in "everything" is a mistake, sure - but consider the perspective of a patient who has already undergone disabling surgery, radiation, and drug treatment and seen none of it work, yet who gets the message from all sides that her life should be focused on desperate scrabbling after a cure. She can see that conventional treatment couldn't cure her, and therefore probably won't in future, so what does that leave as a source of "hope" but alternative treatment? And how is she to know that one potential alternative is a big mistake, if her naturopath is not smart enough to admit it? She doesn't know any more about that stuff than she does about whatever her oncologist is pushing.

Did anyone discuss this with her, or, as is common in American cancer treatment, was she just pushed to keep on Doing Everything?

Do you have evidence that this is "common in American cancer tratment?"

@Jane - if you've read or had the opportunity to speak to Oncologists (our blog owner here is a good example), there is always a point at which "the talk" happens.....heck, how many times have we seen the unfortunately patients of Dr. B write (or have written about them) that their conventional oncologists gave them the terminal diagnosis & recommendation for palliative care?

You're barking up the wrong tree - medical professionals definitely go the extra mile to give the straight dope (with some exceptions, of course), but it is the patients that refuse to listen.

Jane -- I doubt it. After all, it was she who felt her doctors weren't already doing everything and went for experimental treatments and then added things like acupuncture and then, eventually, that horrible black salve.

"Doing everything" seems to be one common thread in cancer woo. (The other major thread is diametrically opposed to that: "help the body heal itself".)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Jane - I have a relative who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. From nearly the beginning her doctors have told her that she will not be cured and the best they can do is try to maintain her quality of life. They have also discontinued treatments quickly and stopped other proposed treatments when they saw that they were not causing a noticeable improvement.

At least in that one case her oncologist "kindly explained that that meant she was probably going to die of it and might soon be better off to stop chasing a cure and concentrate on wrapping up her life well,"

I suspect that message comes differently in your 20s than when you are much older.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Thing that struck me about Lisa’s blog is how nearly illiterate it is. She can’t spell and seems to have only a vague idea how punctuation and English orthography works. Given the number of wooey folks I’ve run into who seem to fit the same demographic, I have to wonder if there really is a correlation, and what’s the causative factor if so.

It may be generalized rebellion against perceived authority ("nobody tells ME how to write!") justified by a bunch of word salad about not being bound by left-brained linear thinking, much like the way many Web designers 15 or so years ago insisted that having to write syntactically-correct HTML took away their artistic freedom. It may also be something similar to the recent discovery that in the US, self-identified conservatives are less likely to buy a product if it's marketed as having environmental benefits.


Rifled muskets are quite accurate. It's in the cyclic rate of fire, range and velocity where they can't compete with those ugly modern things.

On the other hand they fire pure lead bullets uncontaminated by any kind of Could work.

And to think, if the internet had been popularized a couple decades earlier, this stuff would have been my best chance at existing...

I was born in '84. My mom had melanoma in the early 80s but caught it in time and had proper surgery and is fine but has since gone waaaaay off into alt med land to the point where I rarely talk to her because she fills up my altie cliche card up so fast and won't understand when I slip up and yell "Bingo!" So there's no real chance, if it happened again tomorrow, that she'd do anything science based. But her internet echo chambers might tell her about this stuff.

So, since this stuff might actually work if you slopped it on while the thing's still very small and hasn't put down too many roots...I'd never do it myself unless I were on a desert island as I rather like the idea of getting a lab report with clean margins out of the experience (and between family history and pigmentation my odds of having to make that decision are such that thinking it through in advance is worth it). These people, though, are mentally on a desert island.

By ebrillblaiddes (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

This reminds me of the XKCD comic in Monday's post. What next, using black powder to cauterize away the cancer?

One question that remains in my mind is why does BS "appear" to be selective? Users will "prove" their point by applying a patch of salve then showing how "only the spots" are attacked. (I've seen one picture where a fingernail-size dollop was applied and, later, three distinct spots within that region had ulcerated). Is this due to inconsistencies in the paste or actual differences in the way skin cells are responding to the caustic substance?

In her last blog post back in March, Lisa said she was using a treatment derived from Amanita phalloides... the death cap mushroom. Apparently there is research being carried out in Europe.

Death cap mushrooms??? Is this for real? I did a quick google search, but all I could find was research into how to treat death cap poisoning. Is there some actual benefit to be derived from death caps, or is this just even more dangerous woo?

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

OK, managed to get a bit more comprehensive with Googlefu and pubmed turned up 1 article on deathcaps being used to treat cancer... from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. I may not be a medical professional, but I'm calling "woo" on this one.

Study involving one patient, with homeopathy, back in 2010.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Beaten to the punch. I do wish Mary Ann Liebert would get it over with and switch the logo to Comic Sans.

So, you treat fear of dying with something extremely toxic? I can see how that works - if you survive the treatment, it works because you went close to death and survived, therefore there's nothing to fear. If you don't survive the treatment, it works because you can't be afraid when you're dead! The homeopath can't lose! The patient, on the other hand...

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

One might note that these are only low-"D" dilutions.

@Shay: Obviously>/i> one'd use a smoothbore musket.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Oh hey, Amanita Phalloides (not going to try italics - it's been too long). From this mushroom one gets phalloidin, a bicyclic peptide that binds actin. Very poisonous. Maybe they're emulating the anti-cancer drugs that bind tubluin (e.g. vinca alkaloids & paclitaxel). Also from this mushroom you get alpha amanitin, another bicyclic peptide, this one a potent RNA polymerase II inhibitor. These are very poisonous and well known. Very useful in cellular biology and molecular biology; I've used them (in vitro!). If there would be bona fide anti-tumor usage, it would be well known. There is good rationale for the tubulin bindng drugs, but these also have off-taget (non tumor cell) effects. I could see some vain hope that tumor cells would be somehow selectively vulnerable to the A. phalloides compounds. But maybe the rationale is no more than the woo-infused fear of death already mentioned here or homeopathic nonsense. Hi everybody; it's been a while.

THS: thanks for the info! Some of what I read suggested there are uses for the compounds found in deathcaps, just not in treating cancer. And my woo-meter went off for the article I found when I saw it was from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. I've never heard of this "fine publication" before, the name was enough.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

It is a homeopathic treatment. I imagine the argument went like this: Cancer causes death. Death is also caused by death cap mushrooms. Therefore if you dilute death cap mushroom extract until there is nothing left, it should cure death.
Study involving one patient, with homeopathy, back in 2010.

The References section consists of nine citations, 7 of them to the author's own publications. The text begins with some bafflegab about HOX genes and RNA polymerase II, cites the author's experiments on fruit-flies, and careers rapidly downhill from there.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

I'm bringing you a related case of crank magnetism.

Youtube channel "gvloanguy" (I'm not direct linking, just search that) belongs to a man who is chronicling his fight against melanoma in his neck, mainly through black salve (who he calls "nature's scalpel"). I followed him out of morbid curiosity just to see how the black tumors fell off and became exposed (aside from orders from Gen. Nouvh Arrth Ish) and the comments are full of nonsense:

- People who try to rationalize Simoncini's stupid "cancer = fungus because it's white" crap by speculating "the white around the eschar must be the fungus"
- Burzynski, Gerson, etc supporters
- Comments by the uploader who admits to take Essiac and "vitamin b17" aka CYANIDE pills every day

After removing some tumors from under his left ear, SURPRISE, another appeared in his right cheek, so he gave up by saying he'll focus on less aggressive methods and because the pain is too much... and then in the comments he claims "black salve is harmless to healthy cells"

Oh, and he's a huge conspiracy nut who keeps babbling about Obama the Devil, covered up doomsday asteroids and chemtrails.

By The Typical Ph… (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink


Did anyone discuss this with her, or, as is common in American cancer treatment, was she just pushed to keep on Doing Everything?

I researched this a while ago and came across a couple of studies that found that aggressive end-of-life cancer treatment is often driven by the patient or their relatives, not their doctors. For example this study.

Lisa, the aromatherapist who posted here recently, complained about doctors giving up on her mother, who had terminal cancer, yet strongly implied that conventional treatments had killed her. I have often seen similar inconsistent complaints. I suppose it isn't surprising that people are not at their most rational when they or a loved one are dying.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 29 May 2013 #permalink

Here's a better example of what I was referring to above:

Oncologists are frequently subject to pressure sometimes from patients but more often from families to continue therapies of doubtful efficacy. Conflict often starts with members of the family that are absent or health illiterate.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

Of course the important criterium is does black salve kill cancer in a petri dish? If so we're good.

Chilling. Which is the original poem? I was reminded of the one from Silence of the Lambs ....

By Stephan Brun (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

has any proponent of black salve taken the obvious steps to prove black slave "is a relentless substance which hunts down and penetrates all abnormal tissues" while not attacking normal tissues, by applying it to both the site of their cancer and to second site known to be free from cancer, then documenting the results? If they're right, eschar should form only at the site of the cancer.

Wait--that's almost a controlled experiment. What was I thinking?

What next, using black powder to cauterize away the cancer?

It would be a good use for all the gunpowder left over from Andreas' musket.


has any proponent of black salve taken the obvious steps to prove black slave “is a relentless substance which hunts down and penetrates all abnormal tissues” while not attacking normal tissues, by applying it to both the site of their cancer and to second site known to be free from cancer, then documenting the results? If they’re right, eschar should form only at the site of the cancer.

Ah, but if it does damage at the control site, then that site must have had cancer that the screening missed. There's always a cognitive "out" from conflicting evidence.

There's more to consider than the burn injury.

Jellinek and Mahomey, 2005. Escharotic and other botanical agents for the treatment of skin cancer: A review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 53(3):487-495

The substance the patient used contained bloodroot,
galangal, red clover, and sheep sorrel, and as far as I can tell, is the same "black salve" being discussed here. The case they discuss (and yuck, illustrate) presents the recurrence of much nastier, more invasive tumors within the scarring. In other words, using this gunk gives you (much worse) cancer.

By Ron Edwards (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

There is good rationale for the tubulin bindng drugs, but these also have off-taget (non tumor cell) effects. I could see some vain hope that tumor cells would be somehow selectively vulnerable to the A. phalloides compounds

There are 'armed antibodies' in clinical trials - antibodies with a covalent linkage to a very potent chemo, some of them tubulin binders, that are too toxic to use systemically. The Ab targets a surface receptor known to be turmor-expressed that's interalized when the Ab binds, the payload is released in the lysosome, and the tumor cell is killed.

Quite different from the alt med use, of course, in part because it might work.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

"Rifled muskets are quite accurate. It’s in the cyclic rate of fire, range and velocity where they can’t compete with those ugly modern things."

Anti lever action Luddite! How dare you besmirch the elegance of these wonders. Stick with your "powder, patch, ball" if you must, but the ghosts of Oliver Winchester and John Marlin will haunt you every time you reach for that ramrod.

Someone tell me how topical black salve treats metastatic migration to lymph nodes?

Another critical issue, yes this might work, but with surgical removal of the sample you have the benefit of tissue pathology, which is lost by destructino of the skin and surrounding area. Critical information about the type of tumor and the depth of invasion will be lost that could be relevant to anything from whether or not the lesion was benign to what additional surgical or medical interventions are necessary to control the spread of disease.

What is it with "it's natural therefore it is better and must be safe" ideology of these crazies? Rattlesnake venom is also natural but I wouldn't recommend being bitten by one to treat a DVT

By LurkeyLoo (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

What is it with “it’s natural therefore it is better and must be safe” ideology of these crazies?

I really don't know, but it clearly makes sense to people like Michelle, who considers that using a "natural" caustic to give herself a mastectomy in a horribly painful process lasting several months, is far better than letting a surgeon do it in a couple of pain-free hours.
Perhaps it's partly a matter of a feeling of not having any power or control over things; she - and others like her - wants to treat herself, rather have somebody "do" treatment to her. Mind you, if she felt that way, why not do the surgery herself? Maybe with a crystal knife that had been handmade and blessed by South American medicine men?

I really don't know.

"Deciding what's right for me" seems to be important to lots of alt-med mark^H^H^H^H users, so, yeah, a feeling of powerlessness is surely an important reason to reject mainstream medicine. Why they should choose "natural" cures in particular as the alternative, well, maybe it's just because our culture in general values "natural" things, and conventional medicine, with its antiseptic hospitals and industrially produced drugs, is conveniently easy to denounce as "unnatural"?

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink

Oh good lord.... I have a skin condition that leaves me with abscesses, holes and raw, open, ulcerated patches that won't heal (hidradenitis suppurativa, if anyone cares) including the axilla, and there are times my skin looks like some of those photos (appropriate dressings prevent eschars, thankfully). I spend my life trying to heal this excruciating condition; why would anyone do that to themselves over clean, quick surgery under anaesthetic?

@ Handy: Wow, you really have a complicated medical condition. Ironic, isn't it, how black salve users indulge in self-maiming?

Pardon if this has already been posted, but this forum follows a black salve user (and enablers) that ended up with eroding her nose off, and the resulting reconstructions. And she STILL uses black salve... ffs...

There are graphic pics on the site of eroded faces and other body areas, proceed with caution.

Anti lever action Luddite!

There's nothing like the tang of black powder in the morning. It smells like victory.


There are graphic pics on the site of eroded faces and other body areas, proceed with caution.

Good God, she did that to herself to avoid having another little scar line like that one on her lip? I get that it's always nice to have options but the exception is when the option chosen is that much worse than the other. Yuck.

By ebrillblaiddes (not verified) on 04 Jun 2013 #permalink


Yeah, if you can see the inside of your nostrils from halfway up your nose, I think you've got a bit of a problem. Just a bit.

By Indigo_Fire (not verified) on 04 Jun 2013 #permalink

Holy crap, that is nuts!

@ herr doktor bimier - just got around to the reference you found. As you mentioned, It reads a bit science-y and means nothing. Typical & irksome. But given an option of death cap-extract treatment, I'd take the homeopathic route.
Avoiding graphic pics - I'll take peoples' word.

Meryl Dorey’s Anti-vaccination network has just been pinged again for advertising black salve to cure cancer

And has failed to comply.

Andy at #57 said:

One question that remains in my mind is why does BS “appear” to be selective? Users will “prove” their point by applying a patch of salve then showing how “only the spots” are attacked. (I’ve seen one picture where a fingernail-size dollop was applied and, later, three distinct spots within that region had ulcerated). Is this due to inconsistencies in the paste or actual differences in the way skin cells are responding to the caustic substance?

If anybody has more info on this point - apparent specificity due to inconsistent effects - I'd really like to hear about it. It seems that a LOT of the folks on the Australian Facebook BS group were basing a lot of their belief on this apparent specificity of action. I know the cognitive biases will just find something else to hang on if this point is debunked, but it's bugging me that I don't know the answer ...

By Ricky Buchanan (not verified) on 10 Jul 2013 #permalink