The skin cancer "remedy" that leaves people maimed and scarred.

Warning: THIS POST CONTAINS EXTREME IMAGES. Seriously, you’ve been warned.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how someone can go to uni for, oh, a gazillion years, and can quote peer-reviewed research and be involved in ongoing study into something (let’s just make that something, for arguments sake, skin cancer), but will still be howled down by those who believe in unproven natural therapies.

When I say “interesting”, what I actually mean is “madness”.

There’s a shocking image doing the rounds today that shows a woman diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma. She was advised by her doctor to have Mohs surgery – a procedure where thin layers of the tumour are removed until only healthy skin is left. Instead, she decided to apply the alternative therapy black salve to her nose.

This was the result: 

The results of using black salve. (Image via World's Greatest Medical on Youtube.)

I am blessed (note extreme sarcasm) with skin like a turkey egg. I'm pale and suffered sunburn so much as a kid it's a wonder I have any skin left. My cousins actually used to fight over who was going to peel my back (repulsive, I know, but you know what kids are like).

Decades down the track, I've had a complete lip reconstruction, and skin cancers removed from my arm, ear and back. Every time - and especially with my lip because, you know, I'm as vain as the next person and it's a tricky thing to conceal - I was worried about how it would look.


So I get that miracle alternatives can seem appealing.

The problem is that at best, they are utterly unregulated (one friend who has used black salve emailed me to say maybe this woman had used the wrong recipe. "I know it is made by many people," she wrote).

The use of black (or red) salve is unproven by even any vaguely scientific measure. How about this from the website

  • "Black Salve has not been subjected to RCTs (randomized controlled trials)."
  • "...until scientific trials have been done, we remain uncertain as to exactly how it works. "
  • "It doesn’t seem to (damage healthy tissue), certainly not to the naked eye.  There may be evidence of damage at the microscopic level, but that’s about all."
  • "...based purely on clinical observations, that Black Salve appears to be very good at killing tumors."
  • "The Black Salve also appears to act as a catalyst (a “reagent”) in mediating an immune response ..."
  • "Users of Black Salve, believe that when Black Salve is applied to cancerous skin lesions, any and every cancer cell associated with that lesion, those laterally and those deep, will be destroyed!"

The italics are all mine, but that's a lot of belief, a lot of 'seems' and 'maybes' and 'appears tos'. It adds up to a lot of uncertainty. And if you look at the site, a lot of it is tied up in medical-sounding jargon, presumably to provide a veneer of  science ("serous fluid",  "leucocytes",  "macrophages", "cytokines" anyone?). It make it way easier to buy into the promise. t's exactly like women at the beauty counter wearing white lab coats. News flash: wearing a white lab coast doesn't make a  retail assistant a scientist.

So while it's touted as a "people's remedy" that requires nothing more than "salve and a band-aid, and an adventurous spirit!", I can't help but call bullshit.

"...when people know a little bit more, they gain confidence to do it themselves", the site says. But would you read up on heart surgery, then offer a bit of DIY?

The woman later needed reconstructive surgery. (Image via World's Greatest Medical on Youtube.)

Of course, black salve supporters say doctors are telling fibs and relying on critics for their info. But they ignore the many, many scientific papers that have been written on the subject and find it's all a case of the Emperor's New Clothes.  (Check out this report on New Zealand's Medsafe site: it quotes no fewer than 10 respected medical journals).

At worst, therapies like this leave in their wake the nightmare of this woman, who is now missing a large portion of her nose.

"I can even pull air through the top/front area of my nose if I completely clog my nostrils," she said, according to the Daily Mail. She needed major reconstructive surgery.

Medsafe recorded the outcome of several cases where black salve was used. It makes for sobering reading: people who have lost the entire side of their noses, a person who had to have three scar revisions to restore their cheek, a person who didn't realised they had malignant melanoma on their chest.

In one tragic case, black salve was unsuccessfully used to treat BCCs on the nose, lip and cheek. The patient subsequently had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. They died.

You can see the woman's full horror in a post on World's Greatest Medical case studies: 

Of course, fans of black salve - and there are plenty of them if a petition with more than 15,000 signatures is any indication - say the damage could have been caused by myriad other factors. They cry big pharma and conspiracy.

But it doesn't hurt to note that just last year, Queensland man Bevan Potter was put on a two-year good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to 24 counts of importing a substance for use in humans. The court heard he made more than $100,000 in gross profit, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin.

In Australia, the TGA says it is "not aware of any credible, scientific evidence that black salve, red salve or cansema can cure or treat cancer. In addition there is no evidence that these products can be used to diagnose cancers. In fact, the evidence shows that they will cause skin irritation regardless of whether any malignancy is present".

Have we learnt nothing from the case of Belle Gibson?

So when it comes to this stuff, I'll take the advice on the disclaimer of


Products mentioned on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
All research information is provided for educational purposes only and as a courtesy to our customers and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professionals.

You better believe it.