Type the words 'black salve' into any search engine and the results will open a new door onto Hell. Graphic and stomach-churning images of people without noses and holes in the side of their face appear in the first few articles. Pretty quickly, you get the idea that Black Salve-also known as an escharotic (corrosive) or as the product Cansema-is the worst form of quackery, one that maims and harms.
It's little wonder, then, that America's drugs regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has listed Cansema as "a fake cancer cure", and that health regulators in the US, UK and Australia want to see it banned.
Black Salve is a thick paste made up of several herbs, most significantly Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), that is applied to the skin, especially around a growth or tumour. It's been used for centuries to 'purge' the body of cancerous tissues by supposedly drawing them to the surface until the whole tumour detaches itself from the skin.
Despite the horror stories, it has its supporters, including Tanya Anderson, whose untreatable Ewing's sarcoma (a rare bone cancer) was successfully treated with black salve, and whose progress was documented in all its gruesome detail on You Tube. Doctors also protest too much: salves are an accepted treatment in conventional medicine, and were championed by leading Wisconsin-based surgeon Frederic Mohs.
And 32-year-old Dave Kelly read all those warnings too when he started researching alternative ways to treat a tumour on his lower back. It had grown to an enormous size, measuring 18 by 20 cm (around seven by eight inches). Over the relatively short years of his life, he and cancer both had form: at the age of seven, he developed a brain tumour that was treated with surgery and six weeks of radiotherapy, followed by eight years of growth-hormone injections. As a young adult, a basal cell carcinoma grew on his nose and a benign tumour on his salivary glands, and both were removed surgically.
Now he had a rare type of skin cancer known as 'pleomorphic cell sarcoma', which was forming on the base of his spine, although it took a long time before he-or his doctors-realized it was cancer. "My wife Claire first noticed it on her birthday, of all days, while I was lying on the bed." That was in May 2012, and Dave didn't think any more about it. But as the lump continued to grow, he had it checked out by the family doctor, who was fairly sure it was benign. "I didn't kick up a fuss, although I suppose I should have, bearing in mind my medical history."
By October that year, when the lump was 18 cm (over seven inches) long, the doctor finally agreed to remove it. "He looked shocked by how big it had grown, and I suppose that should have been another alarm bell," said Dave, who lives in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool. Undaunted, the doctor gave Dave a local anaesthetic, cut the giant lump out and sent it away for analysis. "It was too big for the container and so he cut it in half and threw the rest into the medical waste unit."
When Dave returned a week later to have the stitches removed, the doctor told him he was being referred to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, where the lump had been sent for analysis. At the hospital, he was told it was cancerous, but the doctor was confident the entire tumour could be removed with surgery, followed by a "mopping-up" course of chemotherapy.
"I just heard the word chemotherapy, and I said 'no' to myself. I had chemotherapy as a small kid and I knew what would happen to me. I had also just lost an auntie who had breast cancer, and I'm convinced the chemotherapy, and not the cancer, killed her."
Dave had also been given all the radiation he could take in his lifetime when he was a child, so that wasn't an option either.
Instead, he went home and started reading books about cancer. "I know it's a little cheesy to say this, but What Doctors Don't Tell You was a major influence." He went to an holistic healing centre and also visited the Gerson Centre-which treats cancer by following the protocols of Dr Max Gerson, including an organic, plant-based diet, raw juices, coffee enemas and natural supplements-but he felt they weren't for him.
It was while reading WDDTY that Dave came across an article about Phil and Rosa Hughes and their 'alternative' cancer-screening clinic, which was close to his home. They offer a technology called 'thermography', a less invasive and more sensitive alternative to mammography, which detects the heat generated by early-stage and fast-growing tumours-ironically, the two forms that mammography fails to see.
But it was Rosa's own story that particularly attracted Dave. Rosa had reversed her own breast cancer through diet and lifestyle changes, and he wanted to find out what she had done.
"What she said made so much sense, and it completely changed my outlook," said Dave. He admits that his diet and lifestyle hadn't been very healthy, and that burgers and fries were a regular feature. "With Rosa's help, I started out on a vegan diet, but I was also eating yoghurt before I finally took out all dairy." He was also taking supplements and topping up his vitamin D levels with plenty of sunshine, although he was careful never to get sunburn.
At the time, Dave was still holding down his job as a ticket inspector on the railways, which he had been doing for 10 years, although he was eventually dismissed because of the amount of time he had to take off.
He was sure that the change of diet helped control the growth of the tumour, but within a year, it was back to the same dimensions it had reached when his doctor had removed it. "I think I was being as healthy as I could be, but the tumour just kept growing."
It was around this time that he started reading about Black Salve, including the story of Tanya Anderson, and he became convinced that the cancer he had could be treated by the herbal concoction. But he didn't know where to start. As far as he could see, it was illegal (it isn't) and nobody seemed to prescribe its use. What he didn't want to do was to just buy a product on the internet and self-medicate-the horror pictures had convinced him of that, at least.
Eventually, he found a herbalist, whose clinic was fairly close to his home, who was prepared to see him and treat him with Black Salve. (The herbalist doesn't wish to be named.) Dave met him for the first time in November 2013. "He looked at my back. He was thorough, but he admitted he had never dealt with a sarcoma before, and it was also the biggest tumour he had ever had to deal with."
The tumour, which Dave had by now christened Burt, was clearly visible and, for this reason, the herbalist was confident the salve could help. He estimated it would take 14 days for the tumour to be expelled from the body. He gave Dave a salve that he had made up himself from three herbs he'd picked locally.
But, as Dave puts it, "14 days? Try 14 months!" And they were 14 difficult months, as Claire religiously applied the salve to Dave's back. In that time, Dave suffered excruciating pain that sometimes made him lose consciousness, he lost around four stone (25 kg, or 55 lb) in weight and he felt cold most of the time.
Nevertheless, during the entire process, the tumour was 'expelled' by his body and pushed to the surface until it emerged in all its glory, when it's known as an 'eschar'. Today, a good portion of Burt sits in a container of alcohol. So what has Dave learned? That despite the bad press, Black Salve is an option, but it works only with a qualified practitioner who sources his own herbs. Don't buy just any salve off the internet, and don't try to self-medicate without seeing a registered and qualified therapist. And it's not an easy path: expect excruciating pain. And finally, don't look upon Black Salve as an isolated fix. Cancer is a process, and dramatic lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, need to be part of the mix.
Today, Dave is healthy and well, and he's on a mission to tell the world about cancer and alternative remedies like Black Salve. He's also writing about his experiences in a blog (trustyourselftrusttheuniverse.wordpress.com), which has already attracted more than 5,000 regular readers.
The essential points
o Work with a qualified practitioner who has his own reliable source of Black Salve
o Use it sparingly and make sure any wound that remains is properly and hygienically treated
o Anticipate excruciating pain and long periods of exhaustion and incapacity, when work may not be possible
o Make sure you have the full support of family and friends. If the growth is on the back of the body, you'll need someone prepared to apply the salve who isn't squeamish.
o Buy the salve off the internet or attempt to self-medicate without the guidance of a regulated and qualified health practitioner
o Start salve therapy without having your eyes fully open: read and research, and become a Black Salve expert before you start
o Use Black Salve if you have diabetes or poor circulation
o Start unless you have a powerful and effective pain reliever available.
The history of Black Salve
The use of a salve to treat tumours and growths goes back many centuries, with some reckoning as far back as the Ancient Egyptians.
Native Americans commonly used poultices made up of roasted onions and bloodroot (the main herb in Black Salve) for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and it became a popular remedy in Europe by the 18th century. One salve used Chelidonium, or celandine latex, to remove warts, and was also used in China as a folk remedy for breast cancer.
One of the earliest recorded uses of Black Salve in Europe was during the 19th century at the Middlesex Hospital in London, where Dr J.W. Fell developed a paste of bloodroot, zinc, chloride, flour and water, and applied it to a tumour. He recorded that the tumour was destroyed within two to four weeks.
Fell's work was then taken up by Dr Eli Jones (1850-1933), who wrote the classic work, Cancer: Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatments, in 1915. Jones practised conventional medicine for five years before deciding it was doing more harm than good and so turned to Eclectic Medicine instead, which used herbal extracts, including Black Salve. He claimed to have treated more than 20,000 cancer patients during his 40-year career, achieving an 80 per cent success rate.
America's best-known herbalist, 'Dr' Raymond Christopher (1909-1983), built on the work of the Eclectics and developed Black Ointment, a drawing salve that contained anticancer herbs such as poke root and black walnut bark.
So far, so alternative, but a quick dip into the standard medical books reveals that the use of escharotics is a recognized medical procedure. In his book, Chemosurgery: Microscopically Controlled Surgery for Skin Cancer (Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas, 1978), Dr Frederic E. Mohs, clinical professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, included the use of a basic escharotic paste that had also been used by Jones, and the much-maligned Harry Hoxsey, for the treatment of cancers, moles and warts.
Mohs (1910-2002) himself developed a technique using a form of Black Salve-made up of zinc chloride and bloodroot-that is still widely used in dermatology today. Called Mohs surgery, or chemosurgery, it came about after Mohs had experimented on animals and applied the salve to skin tissue malignancies. The malignant tissue was then easy to remove surgically.