Will Frankincense Be Used To Treat Ovarian Cancer?

Could frankincense, one of the oldest Christmas presents in religion and folklore, be a cure for cancer? Frankincense is plant resin that is extracted from the Boswellia sacra tree which grows in Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It has been used in a curative fashion for thousands of years. Researchers from the University of Leicester, however, have demonstrated that frankincense may actually have a promising future treating ovarian cancer.

The research is still in the very early phases of discovery, and many obstacles stand in the way, but it is already creating quite a stir. Frankincense has been used as a folk medicine for centuries, because it has anti-inflammatory properties, according to GreenMedInfo. That report also claimed that the compound taken from Frankincense resin, AKBA (acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid), has shown promise as a treatment for colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer in the past.

This same compound is what the researchers say could one day prove more powerful than chemotherapy in treating late-stage ovarian cancer. The lead researcher in the groundbreaking study was Kamla Al-Salmani, a PhD student from the University of Leicester’s Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine. According to The University Herald, Dr. Mark Evans, Kamla’s supervisor, is quoted as saying:

“We have shown that this frankincense compound is effective at killing ovarian cancer cells at realistic concentrations. What has been most surprising is that the cells we have tested which are resistant to chemotherapy have shown to be more sensitive to this compound, suggesting frankincense may indeed be able to help overcome drug resistance, and lead to an improved survival rate for patients with late-stage ovarian cancer.”

According to an NHS report, while the findings are remarkable, some claims shouldn’t be taken at face value. That report stated, “in particular the press release’s claim that frankincense has no known side effects. Such claims would need rigorous scientific evaluation before they could be verified.” Even this warning offers no significant opposition against exploring Frankincense as a cancer fighter. The press release, after all, only indicated that it has “no known side effects” at this time. Before being offered to the public, rigorous safety and efficacy testing will need to occur.

Immunologist Mahmoud Suhail told the BBC a few years ago, that he is trying to discover what agent in frankincense is responsible for shutting down cancer cells. He said:

“Cancer starts when the DNA code within the cell’s nucleus becomes corrupted. It seems frankincense has a re-set function. It can tell the cell what the right DNA code should be. Frankincense separates the ‘brain’ of the cancerous cell – the nucleus – from the ‘body’ – the cytoplasm, and closes down the nucleus to stop it reproducing corrupted DNA codes.”

That brings up another road block for Frankincense in the cancer treatment arena. Researchers will need to discover exactly what properties within it are killing the ovarian cancer cells. In order to fund extensive tests so that the resin could play a role in cancer treatment, Frankincense will probably need to be broken down into a patent-able compound. At this time, researchers aren’t sure which of the 17 active agents in frankincense is responsible for the astounding results seen in the ovarian cancer treatment research.

[Photo via Becky from Louisville, KY on Wiki Commons]