A woman claims to have cured a melanoma on her chest using black salve ointment, a controversial alternative medicine condemned by doctors.
Brita Hollows, from Taupo in New Zealand, opted for the alternate treatment after noticing a freckle on her chest had started to rise and change colour in the centre within the space of two weeks.
The 63-year-old said she researched the use of black salve and the traditional method of having the melanoma cut out before she started using the ointment made by a herbalist.
Ms Hollows did not seek medical advice from a doctor, nor did she have a biopsy to determine if it was a melanoma.
She documented the changes and effects the black salve had on her body by taking photos over a 12 month period.
The photos have since gone viral on Facebook after Ms Hollows shared them via her healing page Brita Hollows - Conscious Energy. The post was met with a mixed response with some praising her and others condemning her actions due to her lack of medical experience.
Ms Hollows said her self-diagnosed treatment took about six weeks.
"I'd been in the sea for a bit and had a dressing over it. I figured the salt water couldn't hurt. Every morning in the shower I checked it, took a photo and re-dressed it," Ms Hollows told Daily Mail Australia.
"In the instructions it says don't pull it out, just let it fall out to get the roots. I had to wait for that. It was sitting there for three or four days. It came out when I took a dressing off."
Ms Hollows took the last photo documenting the process a few weeks ago to show show her scarring healed and says she is in the all clear.
"There was a bit of a crater after it fell out - there's not much flesh in that area. It's all fine. I have nothing there, I'm healthy. I had a blood test and it was all clear," she said.
It comes after a Brisbane man created an inch-wide hole in his head after using an alternate treatment thought to be black salve to treat a lesion.
The 55-year-old man presented to Princess Alexandra Emergency Department in Brisbane after applying the unlicensed treatment to his face for four months.
His case appeared in the Medical Journal of Australia where doctors, Natalie Ong, Eric Sham and Brandon Adams, wrote that black salve could lead to scarring and disfigurement because it often contained an alkaloid from bloodroot and zinc chloride.
"In the absence of a biopsy, some patients may commence alternative treatment before attaining a diagnosis of skin cancer, and a very real risk of recurrence and metastasis (cancer spreading) remains," the doctors wrote.
"As a consequence, there may be delays in diagnosis, and it may be difficult to identify the primary site of malignancy.
"It is imperative for health professionals to recognise that these unlicensed products may lead to adverse outcomes, and for consumers to realise that alternative therapies that have been described as natural are not necessarily safe or, by any standard, risk free."
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) continues to condemn the ointments.
It is illegal to buy or sell the treatment in Australia because all therapeutic goods supplied must be included in Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
The TGA says it is "unaware of any credible, scientific evidence that black salve, red salve or cansema can cure or treat cancer."
"In addition there is no evidence that these products can be used to diagnose cancers. In fact, the evidence shows that they will cause skin irritation regardless of whether any malignancy is present," the TGA said.
"Black and red salves and cansema are corrosive salves. They essentially burn off layers of the skin and surrounding normal tissue. They can destroy large parts of the skin and underlying tissue, and leave significant scarring."
In response to online backlash, Ms Hollows said she was not promoting the use of black salve, rather she was giving an insight into how it worked for her.
She urged people to seek help from a medical professional to determine what action needed to be taken before deciding on alternate treatment.
"No scientific evidence"
The Ministry of Health's Medsafe division warns that there is no scientific evidence corrosive black salve and similar products are effective at treating skin conditions, and that they can cause disfiguring injuries.
Sometimes called red salve or cansema, black salves often contain zinc chloride and/or an alkaline substance derived from the bloodroot plant. Both of these ingredients destroy healthy and diseased skin, forming a black scab which eventually falls off.
"This can be very painful and can take several weeks," Medsafe says.
"There have been no clinical trials, so it is not known if these products work ... Only a biopsy can tell you if a mole is cancerous or if skin cancer treatment has been successful. Delaying medical treatment of suspicious moles increases the risk of the cancer spreading.
"Black salve causes more skin damage -- scarring -- than conventional treatment. Some consumers have required extensive plastic surgery afterwards."
The scarring from black-salve use can obscure and disrupt a tumour, complicating any subsequent surgery.
People concerned about their skin are urged to consult a health care practitioner.
One New Zealand alternative health care website sells 22g containers of cansema black salve for $69.95.
Dr Stephen Barrett says on the US-based quackwatch.org website that corrosive cancer salves containing zinc chloride or bloodroot are "extremely dangerous. Their sellers deserve to be imprisoned."
"Salves intended for the treatment of cancers cannot be legally marketed [in the US]. The FDA [Food and Drug Administration] has banned the importation of all 'black salve' products ... "
Medsafe says black salves "are not regulated medicines in New Zealand. There is no monitoring of the quality, content or safety of these products."
What is black salve
• An alternative medicine that is claimed to destroy skin cancers
• A Taupo woman says a melanoma on her chest fell off after she started using black salve
Health Ministry says:
• Black salve ointment is dangerous; do not to use it
• Contains zinc chloride and/or alkaline bloodroot plant derivative
• These substances "burn off" or destroy healthy and diseased skin and can cause more skin damage than conventional treatment, in some cases requiring extensive plastic surgery
• Use of black salve can complicate skin cancer treatment
The ointment claimed by a Taupo woman to have cured her melanoma should be avoided, the Ministry of Health said today.
Brita Hollows, who describes herself as a healer and clairvoyant, said she applied black salve to a freckle on her chest which was changing. The lesion, which she refers to as "melanoma", later fell out and the wound healed.
Black salve often contains zinc chloride and/or an alkaline derivative of the bloodroot plant, both of which destroy healthy and diseased skin.
One Australian alternative medicine website says black salve users believe it will destroy cancerous skin lesions.
The Ministry says that black salve, a complementary healthcare product, should not be promoted for a therapeutic purpose because it has not been assessed and approved under the Medicines Act.
"It is illegal to advertise a medicine that has not been approved, and supply [of it], except in circumstances closely controlled by a healthcare professional, is not permitted. No black salve product has been approved by Medsafe."
Medsafe, ministry division, has been warning against use of black salve since 2013.
The Herald has sought an interview with Ms Hollows, whose representative said she rejected statements made in some media that she promotes the use of black salve.
Cure rates are high with surgical removal of melanoma of the skin if it is treated in its earliest stages.
- Daily Mail with additional reporting from Martin Johnson, NZ Herald