Q: I have a bit of squamous cell skin cancer on my face. I’m hoping that black salve will knock it out without my having to have surgery or radiation. My wife says I have to ask you first. So?
— Hank F., Livingston, N.J.
A: Smart woman, your wife. Black salve is dangerous. While sellers claim it kills skin cancer cells and leaves healthy cells untouched, it actually erodes your skin, causing permanent scarring and disfigurement, often triggers serious infection and leaves cancer cells deep in the skin untouched. The Food and Drug Administration recently issued an alert saying that it should not be used to treat any condition, especially skin cancer.
What is this menace? It is a salve, cream or paste containing sanguinarine, Sanguinaria canadensis, or bloodroot, alone or in combination with zinc chloride. In some instances, the corrosive ingredients are listed on the ingredients label as “inactive.” The FDA says the ointment is sold as black salve, drawing salve, red salve, Cansema, bloodroot, Indian Herb, Hawk Dok Natural Salve, Black Drawing Ointment and other names.
Squamous cell cancer is the second most common form of skin cancer in the U.S., accounting for 15% of cases. Fortunately, it’s usually easily treated. The key is not to delay — especially by messing around with dangerous, unproved remedies.
While we’re on the subject, there are many bogus cancer cures available online, and the use of all of them simply postpones effective treatment. The FDA says signs that a so-called “cancer treatment” is useless at best and dangerous at worst are claims that the product:
• Treats all forms of cancer
• Shrinks malignant tumors
• Selectively kills cancer cells and tumors, leaving healthy cells intact
• Is more effective than chemotherapy
There are complementary treatments (meditation, acupuncture, yoga, diet, exercise) that cancer specialists know help improve outcomes of treatment with proven medical therapies. So ask your doc about those, but avoid alternatives to proven care or you’ll risk making the outcome of your diagnosis far worse than it need be.
Q: I am supposed to beef up my red blood cell count — I’m anemic. But I am a pescatarian. What foods will help if I don’t eat meat or dairy?
— Joyce H., Chelsea, Vt.
A: While anemia can have a wide range of causes, including bone marrow disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcer, celiac disease, kidney disorders and inherited conditions such as sickle cell anemia, nutrition-related anemia is the most common form. Fortunately, it can be eased by making diet changes and, if needed, taking iron supplements.
It often goes undiagnosed because the fatigue it causes can be attributed to everything from stress to sleep apnea. Then, if it gets too severe, it can lead to rapid heart rate, dizziness, shortness of breath and, when related to a lack of vitamin B12, dementia-like symptoms.
Make sure your doctor continues to monitor your symptoms and bloodwork to see if you need supplements, but your food choices can help a lot — even if you don’t eat red meat.
• Eating fish means you are able to access a great natural source of iron. Tuna, haddock and sardines are iron-rich. Around 3 ounces of sardines contain 1.7 grams of iron.
• Vegetables such as beans, lentils and cooked dark, leafy greens deliver an important additional amount of iron, but you may need to eat vitamin-C-rich foods with them to promote better iron absorption. So double up those vegetables with berries (strawberries), citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.
• Certain whole grains are also loaded: Teff, quinoa, barley and whole wheat tortillas should be part of your weekly menus. Iron-fortified oatmeal is also a good source.
• And to protect yourself from anemia related to a B12 deficiency, you should take half a multivitamin twice a day, or include nutritional yeast, fortified plant-based milks from oats, almonds, cashews, soy or hemp, and tempeh, algae/seaweed, and mushrooms in your diet.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)sharecare.com.