Question: About six months ago I had a small growth on my cheek biopsied at the University of Iowa’s School of Dermatology. It came back as basal cell carcinoma. I already had one basal cell carcinoma excised from the top of my head. My face is starting to heal from the biopsy. I was advised to have the margins removed but have been hesitant because of the scarring. Is there anything I can do besides surgery to my beautiful face?
Answer: The history of skin cancer and its treatment is a very interesting exploration into the history of medicine in general and the treatment of cancer in particular. But first a little primer on skin cancer.
There are many different types of skin cancer, all of which get their names from the appearance of the various cells under the microscope. Practically speaking, there are two broad categories of skin cancer—melanoma and non-melanoma. This is the most practical way to think about skin cancer because melanomas have the possibility of spreading and killing the person, while generally speaking all of the other types of skin cancers do not spread except locally. By locally I mean a non-melanoma growth may “eat” away a large area around the original site, but it will never go to the lungs, liver, brain, etc. This is unlike melanoma, which can spread even in the early stages of the illness. In fact, I have known patients with very small original growths whose melanoma had already spread (metastasized) by the time of the diagnosis.
Because these types of cancer act so differently, they also need different treatments–the melanoma type more directed at stopping the metastasis, the non-melanoma types aimed at stopping the localized growth. Another general point is that non-melanoma skin cancers have been more conclusively associated with trauma to the skin, usually in the form of sunburns, while melanomas may not have any relationship at all to sun exposure, although this is controversial in the dermatology world.
For the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers, like the basal cell cancer you have, it turns out there is a safe and effective alternative treatment out there which has been around for at least 200 years, perhaps even longer. The only problem is that the treatment is not for “the faint of heart.” The treatment is called escharotic therapy and is best described in a recently published book by Ingrid Naiman called Cancer Salves. With escharotic therapy, you put a caustic agent (usually sanguinaria root, but other caustics have been used throughout the centuries) in the form of a paste onto the skin cancer, then you cover the area. A few days later, the skin growth will be gone but there will be an open wound in its place. Properly done, with the proper herbs, all of the cancer cells will have been eliminated by the paste and then an eschar, or big thick scab, will form. This scab then takes from three weeks to a year to heal and fall off, depending on how big the scab is. When all is complete, there should be healthy new skin in the area, skin that is totally cancer-free. You can find a full description of these procedures in Naiman’s book, and can actually obtain the particular herbs on her website, www.cancersalves.com.
I have followed this procedure in my patients four or five times, and in each instance the area eventually healed without any trace of the original cancer nor, as of yet, with any recurrence of the growth—after many years in some cases. The comment about “faint of heart” I include because many people don’t enjoy having a large black scab on their face for months. Also, some but not all patients complain of a kind of painful, pulling sensation as the scab heals and a kind of burning sensation in the initial few days of treatment. Neither is extreme, and in all cases the patients say they would do the treatment again, but these cautions are worth noting.
For people with multiple or recurring growths in which it would be difficult to do multiple escharotic treatments, I would use the Iscador treatment discussed on my website www.fourfoldhealing.com and in my book the Fourfold Path to Healing. In fact, I have often had the situation where I was treating a patient for another form of cancer with Iscador and incidentally their non-melanoma skin cancers either got better or didn’t recur in the usual pattern.
I would also include the Mediherb Burdock comp at 2 tablets twice a day to this regimen, as the Essiac formula on which it is patterned has been very helpful for a variety of different types of skin cancer. This could be because its main herb, burdock root, has a particular affinity for the skin. Of course, in addition to these medicines and local treatments, a nourishing traditional diet and cod liver oil should be used as well.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2005/Spring 2006.