Frankincense Extract May Counter Breast Cancer Cell Spread

M. Alexander Otto, PA, MMS

September 26, 2022

The study covered in this summary was published on as a preprint and has not yet been peer reviewed.

Key Takeaway

  • Use of an extract of the ancient perfume frankincense — the hardened resin from trees of the Boswellia genus — decreased breast cancer cell proliferation in a small clinical trial.

Why This Matters

  • Boswellic acids, the active component in frankincense, have demonstrated promising results for patients with inflammatory diseases and cancer in several published studies.

  • The new trial is the first to find an antitumor effect in breast cancer.

  • Given the strength of the findings, the investigators say that evaluating whether frankincense extract reduces local recurrence and improves survival of patients with breast cancer is worthwhile.

Study Design

  • The trial included 36 women with hormone receptor–positive, stage 1–2 invasive breast cancer.

  • Overall, 18 patients took 800 mg of BosPur — a frankincense extract containing boswellic acids — three times a day from the time they were scheduled for surgery to the night before their operation (mean, 11 days).

  • The women's initial diagnostic core biopsy results were compared with their surgical specimens for tumor cell proliferation, as revealed by Ki-67 antibody staining.

  • As a control, diagnostic and surgical specimens were also stained for Ki-67 changes in 18 women who did not take the extract.

  • The women had not received neoadjuvant chemotherapy, and most were HER2 negative.

  • Ki-67 staining and evaluation were performed by two blinded pathologists.

Key Results

  • The authors observed a decrease in tumor cell proliferation of 13.8% ± 11.7% from core biopsy to surgical specimen in the extract arm.

  • They observed an increase in proliferation of 54.6% ± 21.4% from core biopsy to surgical specimen in the control group.

  • The between-group difference was statistically significant (P = .008).

  • Changes in cellular apoptosis were similar between the two arms.

  • No serious adverse reactions were associated with the extract, and the extract demonstrated antiproliferative effects on tumor cells in vitro as well.


  • The study was a small, open-label, single-institution trial.

  • Agreement between the two pathologists was moderate (r = 0.68, P < .01).


  • No external funding was reported, and the investigators have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

This is a summary of a preprint research study, "The Anti-Proliferative Effects of a Frankincense Extract in a Window of Opportunity Phase Ia Clinical Trial for Patients With Breast Cancer," led by Ingrid V. Bonilla of the Medical University of South Carolina. The study has not been peer reviewed. The full text can be found at

M. Alexander Otto is a physician assistant with a master’s degree in medical science and a journalism degree from Newhouse. He is an award-winning medical journalist who has worked for several major news outlets before joining Medscape and also an MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow. Email:

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