How Is Frankincense Reducing Side Effects in Cancer Care?

aromatherapy cancer care essential oils holistic therapies pain management May 16, 2022
Cancer patient smiling into the distance

Many patients who receive a cancer diagnosis use essential oils as supportive therapy to reduce side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, discomfort, and inflammation. Therefore, aromatherapy is not typically part of a cancer therapy plan and is not always accepted in mainstream healthcare.

The Evidence Supports Aromatherapy for Cancer Care

Studies show that aromatherapy can provide symptom relief in patients with a cancer diagnosis. Although essential oils have few adverse effects, little is known about the effectiveness of individual oils for specific symptoms. Three systematic reviews of more than 40 studies involving more than 3000 patients found that aromatherapies using essential oils relieved various physical and psychological complications. Reports identify Lavender, Ginger, Sweet Marjoram, and Mandarin essential oils to reduce pain, anxiety, and nausea, as well as to improve sleep.

Laboratory studies show that some essential oils effectively kill or stop cancer cells. There is evidence for several essential oils, such as Orange (Citrus sinensis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Frankincense (Boswellia carteri). 

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) Studies Yield Most Benefits for Cancer Care

Reports show Frankincense has the most significant amount of research on cancer care. Several studies have shown how the constituents of Frankincense can cause death to tumor cell lines. For example, the research identifies how boswellic acids may kill cancer cells. Limonene and alpha-pinene, other constituents found in frankincense, can support the immune system.

In addition, Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) oil has been identified as a possible benefit for cancer treatment-related concerns relieving symptoms in patients. Frankincense may reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body, thereby reducing inflammation and pain. Inflammation may be the root of fatigue, and Frankincense may help. 

Other studies include a Boswellia-based cream applied topically that is beneficial in preventing skin damage from radiotherapy in mammary carcinoma. Evidence shows Frankincense to calm and relax the nervous system, relieve exhaustion and ease mental fatigue; treat pain; and reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. 

One case study used Frankincense and Lavender essential oils in an inhaler to relax and calm a patient undergoing complex radiation treatments. In another case study, a patient with pancreatic cancer receiving intravenous chemotherapy was experiencing extreme fatigue affecting their quality of life. The patient was instructed to use a 5% dilution of frankincense oil compounded in coconut oil. The patient applied the oil mixture to the feet twice a day, resulting in reduced fatigue and improved energy within 24 hours.

Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Effect of Frankincense Essential Oil in Patients With Cancer Receiving Chemotherapy

Reis et al. (2022) looked at seventy patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer who were randomized to apply frankincense or control oil to their feet twice a day, 2 days before receiving chemotherapy, while receiving chemotherapy, and 2 days after chemotherapy. The topical oil mixture for the experimental group included Frankincense (B. carteri) in a 5% dilution applied to the soles of the feet for chemotherapy-related fatigue. Although the study did not find a difference in fatigue levels, several participants did report relief from their chemotherapy-related neuropathy. Read that article here!

Other Case Reports Suggest Frankincense Oil Benefits Cancer Care Plan

Several case studies support the use of frankincense oil to reduce cancer therapy side effects by enhancing energy, easing discomfort, and supporting the immune system. The action of Frankincense may be related to its anti-inflammatory activity.

Many aromatherapy studies demonstrate benefits in cancer care. Frankincense has taken the lead in the amount of research that has been done in cancer care, both in the laboratory and with case studies. 

Consider using Frankincense essential oil as part of a plan for symptom management. Diffuse Frankincense oil with Orange oil has shown benefits for cancer patients. Consider this combination in an inhaler to uplift the spirit and calm emotions. See recipes for ideas on integrating aromatherapy into a plan of care to relieve cancer treatment-related symptoms.

The online course, Supporting Cancer Care with Essential Oils, is full of information with evidence on several essential oils to consider for supporting the person going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Ideas are given on using aromatherapy with safety and confidence for yourself or someone you care for. Click here for more information.


This blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health, or healthcare advice.  Although Debra Reis is a Clinical Nurse Specialist licensed in the state of Michigan, she is not acting in that capacity here. Debra Reis is acting as a holistic educator and consultant, not as a licensed medical health professional or in her professional capacity as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition, or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Debra Reis, Wellness Services, LLC owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.


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