Frankincense oil is a natural remedy that comes from the resin of a tree. People have used it in traditional medicine for centuries. Some benefits of frankincense include its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.

Frankincense comes from the Boswellia tree. It has a long history in myth and folk medicine, especially in India and African countries. In the Bible, it is one of three gifts that the wise men offered to Jesus, possibly because of its apparent healing powers.

Substances that occur in frankincense have a number of possible health benefits.

These include controlling bleeding, speeding up the wound-healing process, improving oral health, fighting inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and improving uterine health.

Studies have suggested that certain substances in frankincense may be useful as a cancer treatment. Current research is limited and has been mostly in the lab, so clinical studies with humans need to happen before the ingredients in frankincense will be used as a medication for cancer.

Note: the resin gum is being studied for its ingredients, not the essential oil derived from frankincense.

Here we will look at some of the reasons why frankincense might help to treat cancer.

Frankincense and inflammation

Frankincense contains boswellic acid, which may help fight inflammation.

Inflammation causes redness, swelling, and heat. It happens after an injury and during many illnesses.

The body uses inflammation to fight infection. When inflammation occurs, the body produces white blood cells as part of its defense mechanism. Inflammation also causes swelling, redness, and pain.

Long-term inflammation, especially when it occurs in multiple areas of the body, is associated with a wide range of health issues, such as arthritis.

In the past 20 years there has been significant research on the effect of the anti-inflammatory effects. The action appears to be through numerous methods including reducing oxidative stress, reactive nitrogen, and other inflammatory triggers.

The role of frankincense in reducing inflammation could have important implications for cancer treatment. A number of studies have linked inflammation to cancer.

Frankincense and cancer cells

Frankincense might not just reduce inflammation. It may also attack cancer cells directly.

One of the challenges of cancer treatment is that, unlike bacteria or viruses, cancer cells are not foreign invaders. Instead, cancer occurs when the body’s cells grow out of control, attacking healthy tissue.

This process makes it difficult to fight cancer without also killing healthy cells. In fact, most cancer treatments do kill healthy cells.

Chemotherapy, for example, kills many healthy cells as it fights cancer. This is why people often lose their hair, experience nausea, and become more vulnerable to infection during chemotherapy.

Some evidence suggests that frankincense might target cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

In a 2022 study, many breast tumor cells were either directly killed, or their deaths were triggered by the effects of frankincense.

In 2015, lab research found similar effects in breast cancer. The investigators found that frankincense could kill breast cancer cells and disrupt the growth of future cancer cells.

In 2016, scientists describing the properties of frankincense noted that it contains substances that have anti-tumor properties. These could prevent cancer cells from growing and lead to controlled cell death, or apoptosis.

These are early results, but they offer hope that substances that occur in frankincense might one day fight some forms of cancer without the potentially life-threatening effects of chemotherapy.

When we hear that a natural substance is useful for treating a disease, it often means that the substance, such as frankincense, contains compounds or chemicals that have therapeutic properties.

A person will not use whole frankincense, for example, to cure a disease, but scientists may find a substance within frankincense that they can turn into a medication or therapy.

In addition, scientists have only looked at compounds in frankincense as a cancer treatment in laboratory studies. They do not know how it might affect cancer in a living human being.

Before using a frankincense-based product to treat cancer, researchers must perform human trials to prove that it works and that it is safe.

Human bodies are complicated systems, and natural products such as whole frankincense are also complex.

Any drug or substance that can solve one problem may have other, unwanted effects on the body.

Before giving people frankincense or its derivatives, scientists must work out a safe dosage, explore potential side effects, and decide how best to deliver treatment.

Research is still in its early stages. Frankincense is unlikely to form the basis of a mainstream cancer treatment in the near future.

Frankincense is available as an extract and an essential oil, but people should talk to a doctor before trying it as a treatment for cancer or any other health condition.

Frankincense is not an alternative to mainstream cancer treatments, and it cannot replace standard treatment.

The research to date is on the resin from a tree, not on the essential oil. Essential oils should not be used in place of other cancer treatments. People may, however, use it as a supplement to medical treatment or to reduce the symptoms of chemotherapy.

The United States Food and Drug Administration have not approved frankincense as a drug for any specific disease. There are no scientifically proven guidelines for its use, and there is no official control over what a product contains when people purchase it.

People use essential oils in aromatherapy. This means they inhale the aroma of the oil, usually with a diffuser.

People should never swallow an essential oil, and they should always dilute it with a carrier, for example almond oil, before applying it to the skin.

Essential oil manufacturers suggest a range of ways to use frankincense.

Topical application

These include:

  • Skin care: Add a drop or two to a favorite lotion.
  • Bath soak: A few drops in a bath tub create an aromatic soak, and the body may absorb some of the oil. Mix the oil first with some full-fat milk so that it does not separate and stay on the surface of the water.
  • Relaxation: Use frankincense on pulse points during meditation or yoga, or apply a few drops of oil to a hot compress.

People should not ingest an essential oil. Frankincense extract is different than the essential oil and is also commonly available.

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on dosage. Interactions with other drugs or side effects are much more common when the extract is taken by mouth. This extract is not considered a drug by the FDA and is not monitored for quality or safety.

Speak to your doctor before beginning any herb or extract as this might interact with medications.

Users should watch carefully for side effects, and they should stop use immediately if any ill effects develop.

Frankincense is natural, but like many other natural substances, it can be poisonous.

Some people who have used frankincense extract have experienced:

People who are pregnant, lactating, have a history of allergic reactions, or have a weakened immune system, should avoid using frankincense extract or essential oils.

At this point frankincense is not used in treatment of cancer.

At least one trial has looked into the use of frankincense for medical purposes.

Because of the anti-inflammatory action of frankincense there are numerous conditions that might benefit from the resin of this African tree.

Other diseases it may help with include:

Authors of a study published in 2016 suggested that, apart from fighting inflammation, it might have benefits that are “expectorant, antiseptic, and even anxiolytic and anti-neurotic.”

In 2017, other scientists concluded that it may contribute to wound healing.

However, anyone who is considering using frankincense for medical purposes should speak to a doctor first.