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Frankincense & Cancer

By Alina Barnett, Pharm.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Frankincense resin and oil is obtained from Boswellia, a genus of trees that are common in Asia, Africa, India and the Middle East. Frankincense was used for thousands of years as a base for perfume. Frankincense was also used in traditional medicines to treat inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. According to published scientific literature, frankincense may also play an important role in cancer treatment; however, data is limited. Natural supplements should not replace or supplement medical therapy without first consulting your doctor.

Prostate Cancer

In the March 2010 issue of "Molecular Pharmacology," Dr. Aydee C. Estrada, et al., reported on the effects of tirucallic acids against prostate cancer. Tirucallic acids are the active ingredients found in frankincense. Dr. Estrada found that tirucallic acids extracted from frankincense successfully killed cultured human prostate cancer cells that were experimentally grafted into mice, by inducing the expression of proteins that are important in apoptosis. Apoptosis is a cell process that produces cellular death and is a process most cancers have learned to avoid.


Acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, is a cancer that occurs in the bone marrow and originates in cells that eventually develop into white blood cells of the immune system. AML is rare in children and generally only affects adults over the age of forty. In the March 2005 issue of "Molecular Cancer Therapy," Dr. Lijuan Xia, et al., reported that in laboratory-based experiments, resin from frankincense extract successfully induced apoptosis, increasing cell death by approximately 40 percent in leukemia cells.

Kidney Cancer

Using human bladder cancer cell lines, as reported in the March 2009 issue of "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine," Dr. Mark Barton Frank, et al., illustrated that frankincense was cytotoxic for bladder tumor cells. In other words, frankincense might provide benefit against bladder cancer by killing cancer cells, while not affecting normal cells. Further experiments are necessary to verify the results.

Cinical Data

Although a lot of scientific data supports a possible role for frankincense in cancer treatment, according to NIH, all the experiments were performed in cells or in animal studies. Cells, while a good tool in cancer studies, do not fully explain the possible effect of frankincense in the human body. More studies are necessary to determine if frankincense is truly a valid treatment option. Furthermore, the safety of frankincense has not been fully studied. Side effects may exist. Use frankincense cautiously and only with the advice of a physician.

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