healthHealth and Medicine

This "Alternative Cancer Treatment" Has Horrific Side Effects. Why The Hell Are People Still Using It?


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Black salve is corrosive, why the hell would you put it on yourself? Medical Journal of Australian

Warning: This article contains extremely graphic images 

Horror stories and gruesome images of “Black Salve” victims have been knocking around for decades. In most countries, this nasty "alternative" cancer treatment is tightly outlawed. However, in the era of online shopping and Youtuber quackery, it appears to be having an unlikely comeback.


Australian newspaper The Age reported this month that a nurse died from ovarian cancer after shunning mainstream treatments in favor of black salve. She was a successful and intelligent woman, and a trained ER nurse, yet she was still sucked in by its lofty claims and "all natural" image.

“Anyone who suffers from cancer, or knows someone who does, understands the fear and desperation that can set in,” Nicole Kornspan, a consumer safety officer at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said in a statement on fake “cancer cure” treatments. “There can be a great temptation to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.”

So, what is it, what does it do, and why should you stay the hell away from it?

Black salve, also known as red salve or its brand name Cansema, is a thick paste that’s touted as a treatment for basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. The “active ingredients” usually include a cocktail of zinc chloride, a highly corrosive agent, and sanguinarine, a toxic plant extract. It works by simply corroding away chunks of tissue, and leaves behind a thick black scar. It is able to destroy some superficial cancer cells, but doesn't differentiate from burning away normal, healthy cells too.

A man who applied black salve to suspected carcinoma. Medical Journal of Australian

“There is a misperception that black salve ‘draws the cancer out,’ when, in fact, it just indiscriminately damages anything it touches,” board-certified dermatologist Dr Mark J Eliason, who has extensively studied black salve, said in a warning statement for the American Academy of Dermatology last year.

“One of the reasons black salve treatment is so dangerous is that many users have no idea how harmful it can be.”

Needless to say, self-applying corrosive pastes you bought off the Internet is not a good idea. As the gruesome images of the treatment’s victims show, you can be left with literal holes in your face and body. Other common side-effects include infection, extensive scarring, and permanent disfigurement.

Derived from an age-old Native American treatment, black salve entered the public imagination in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1950s, people began to cotton on that this treatment was dangerous bullshit. 


Nevertheless, in this anti-science, pro-alternative medicine day and age, a Google search for “black salve” will bring a handful of results within the first few pages touting its “proven anti-cancer properties.” YouTube is equally full of cyber snake-oil salesmen talking about this product as a treatment for cancer and skin ailments.

The FDA lists Black Salve as a "fake cancer cure" and frequently puts out warning letters to remind consumers to stay well clear. Numerous medical case studies have also shown the dangerous and deadly effect of this treatment.

As ever, if you are concerned about any aspect of your health, you should take a trip to see a medical professional.



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