For thousands of years frankincense has been used in incense and perfumes, and the bible tells that it was one of the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus. And there might now be a new use for Frankincense, to treat cancer of the bladder, a deadly form of the disease – in the US it is the 4th most common type of cancer in men, and it is the 7th most common cause of death among British men.
Hsueh-Kung Lin led a team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Oklahoma City VA Medical Center in the United States who published their study of frankincense in the open access journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Various other studies have pinpointed the anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-fungal properties of frankincense as well as its use in combating various other types of cancer cells. Here Lin and the team added frankincense oil to human bladder cancer cells and normal bladder cells in Petri dishes in the laboratory and they found that frankincense singled out the cancer cells and killed them.
Lin and his team identified various genes that were switched on by frankincense oil, and some that were switched off. Among those that were switched on were genes that are known to stop tumour cells from dividing and growing and some that promote cell death in the cancer cells through many different pathways.
Frankincense comes from the resin of various different species of Boswellia tree, including species that are native to India, China, Somalia and East Africa. To harvest it, the tree bark is cut and the white, milk-like gum oozes out. When it hardens it turns orange/brown and that is frankincense. The oil is made by stream distillation of the resin.
This is the first evidence that frankincense is effective against bladder cancer cells so it is still early days. More tests are needed on other human cancer cells lines and scientists will need to be sure there aren’t other unwanted side effects of the oil. But it is certainly encouraging that frankincense could at some point in the future be used as an alternative therapy for people suffering from bladder cancer.