Home Remedies

Standard treatments for skin cancer have risks and side effects. These treatments can be expensive or uncomfortable, and they require a visit to the doctor.

You may be curious about alternative ways to treat skin cancer. The internet is filled with dozens of recipes for home remedies. Some of the most common are:

  • Eggplant and apple cider vinegar
  • Baking soda and coconut oil paste
  • Black salve or bloodroot
  • Oils: black raspberry seed, frankincense, and myrrh
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin C

The authors of these pages promise that the remedy will cure the cancer with only a few mild side effects. The claims are tempting. But here are a few things to consider first.

What could be the harm in trying a home remedy first?

First, you may not know exactly what kind of lesion you are self-treating. It can be hard to identify skin cancer correctly on your own. There are three main types of skin cancer, and several subtypes of each. Although there are typical features of each type, cancerous lesions may have atypical (abnormal) features. Even dermatologists use special magnifying glasses and handheld imaging devices. These tools help them to identify suspicious lesions. A skin biopsy is needed to confirm that a lesion is cancerous.

Second, delaying effective treatment for skin cancer can lead to worse outcomes. One risk of using a home remedy is that it will not work, giving the cancer time to grow. Of the three major skin cancers, melanoma is the most likely to invade and spread if it is not treated early.1 About 5% to 10% of squamous cell carcinoma is aggressive.2 Squamous cell carcinoma is difficult to treat once it spreads. Although basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to distant parts of the body, it can grow into bone or the tissue below the skin if left untreated.3

Third, “natural” treatments can be harmful. One example is black salve.4 Black salve is an ointment that contains bloodroot and zinc chloride. The salve is applied to a lesion. Advocates for this product claim that the product only works on cancerous tissue, leaving healthy tissue alone. The active ingredients have been tested on cells in the lab and results show the compounds do kill some cell types better than others.4 However, it has more to do with the cell type than whether the cells were cancerous or healthy.4 The treated areas turn into burn-like lesions. The treatment can be painful.5 It may cause scarring in the treated area.4,5 Although published data are limited, only 8% of cases report good or fair appearance of the affected area after treatment.4 If the cancer persists or returns, it may be hard for a doctor to evaluate area because of the skin damage. In some cases, surgery is needed later to correct extensive scarring or deformity.

How do I know what health information to trust?

Health information fills the internet. Much of it is good. Some of it is wrong or misleading. Here are some tips for evaluating the quality of the information you read:6

  1. Figure out who runs and pays for the website. This information helps you to understand what the purpose of the website is. If the purpose is to sell you something, this may influence the content. The letters at the end of the web address provide some information who runs the site:
    • Sites run by colleges and universities end in .edu
    • Sites run by national or local governments end in .gov
    • Sites run by non-profit organizations end in .org
    • Sites run by companies or private organizations may end in .com or .biz or .net
  2. Understand where the site’s content originated. Was it written by the person in charge of the site? What are the credentials of the author or reviewer? Are outside sources clearly identified? Are published articles from reputable medical journals cited in support of medical or scientific information? Are recommendations based on only on testimonials?
  3. Understand how your personal information will be used. Some sites ask you to sign up or subscribe. They may sell the information you provide. The site should have a policy explaining how your information will be used. Do not sign up unless you understand the policy.

What can I do at home when it comes to skin cancer?

Here are a few ideas for taking charge of your skin health:

  1. Prevention is better than a cure. Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure is the most important risk factor for skin cancer. There are many things that you can do for yourself and your family to reduce UV exposure, including:
    • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
    • Seek shade between 10 am and 2 pm.
    • Wear long sleeves, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
    • Avoid indoor tanning beds.
  2. Talk to your doctor. If you see a suspicious lesion, get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor. It may turn out not to be skin cancer at all. If it is skin cancer, discuss the treatment options with your doctor. Explain your concerns about scars or side effects. There may be several ways to treat the cancer. You may be able to find a treatment that meets your financial needs and cosmetic preferences with acceptable side effects.
Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: May 2017.
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