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Essential Oils & Cancer Scientific Research Pt. 2: An-In Depth Review of the Research

Essential Oils Have the Potential Anti-Cancer Action Noted in MANY Scientific Studies, and the Significant Potential Benefits of Essential Oils Over the Western Medicine Approaches   In part one of this series here we discussed scientific research approaches ~ including the study of essential oils vs. cancer, and the great importance of combining Western and Eastern medicine systems to address this serious [...]

Essential Oils Have the Potential Anti-Cancer Action Noted in MANY Scientific Studies, and the Significant Potential Benefits of Essential Oils Over the Western Medicine Approaches


Essential Oils are a complicated chemical solution whose complexity may be highly beneficial in concurrently targeting multiple means of killing cancer cells.

In part one of this series here we discussed scientific research approaches ~ including the study of essential oils vs. cancer, and the great importance of combining Western and Eastern medicine systems to address this serious health issue. In part three, we look at many research papers produced on three very common essential oil constituents, affirming their anti-cancer activity under laboratory conditions.

In this post, we are going to cover an incredible peer-reviewed scientific article on essential oils and why they have inherent anti-cancer potentials. First, though, we’ll quickly review the properties of essential oils and how they work in the human body, and how they differ from the ‘single chemical’ approach of Western Medicine. Then we’ll look at specific studies using essential oils to combat cancer. And finally, we’ll describe some of the advantages that essential oils may have over current western medicine cancer-treatments. It’s a little long, but bear with us – this is very valuable information!

Essential Oils: Because of their Complex Makeup, They Work Through MANY Biochemical Pathways All at the Same Time!

Essential oils are, liquid (yet volatile, meaning ‘easily evaporated’) plant extracts (see “What Are Essential Oils“) which vary in their natural chemical makeup depending on the plant species.

Some essential oils are comprised of many (over 100!) chemical compounds (terpenes, esters, ketones and more…see more on natural chemicals  families which make up each essential oil here), while others actually only have 1 or 2 constituents. (Helichrysum essential oil, for example, is highly complex, while Wintergreen is fairly simple – each essential oil’s GC/MS showing its chemical constituents can be downloaded on each oil’s page, following these instructions.)

The Natural Synergy of Essential Oils, and How They Differ from Single-Molecule Drugs

What is highly interesting about essential oils is that their individual chemical constituents – again, which, together make up the ‘single oil’,  work synergistically to effectively produce desired effects. It is the incredible variance of the natural constituents between one essential oil and another that impart these effects: Roman Chamomile is high in esters, which people have used to ease stomach troubles. Lavender is high in the monoterpene Linalool and Linalyl Acetate – which not only impart its characteristic aroma but have been researched for their effects in reducing anxiety. [18]

These plant materials do not act as a single molecule targeting a single pathway in the body, as do pharmaceutical drugs or isolated chemicals. One essential oil affects our cells and biology through many different means at the same time, each complimenting one another.

Essential Oils are complex and compounds that use multiple natural pathways to target a number of helpful functions during exposure.

An Example Using Anti-Inflammation/Pain Perception Pathways: Single Chemicals vs. Complex Essential Oils

For example, biological systems which relieve inflammation can be activated concurrently with pain-relieving mechanisms. Active compounds addressing both inflammation (which perpetuates pain) and compounds which themselves reduce the perception of pain, when used together, have a synergistic effect: They work better together than either compound (or compounds) alone.

A simple example is using both Tylenol and aspirin at the same time. Tylenol reduces the perception of pain, and aspirin reduces the inflammation causing the pain. Certain ‘single’ essential oils do both of these at the same time because they already contain many individual chemical constituents which act together.

What Does This Mean for Cancer?

By having many different active components, certain essential oils have been targeted for cancer research – see the figure to the left showcasing possible multiple mechanisms which may target anti-cancer pathways at the same time.


Current Anti-Cancer Drugs Typically Target a Single Pathway!

The anti-cancer drugs utilized in modern medicine have a much more narrow approach, each typically targeting a single pathway.  A single compound could help detoxifying enzymes, or maybe they would only inhibit the creation of cancer cells, but they each would only provide a single approach because they are single molecules or compounds. Essential oils, however, or natural plant materials in general, have been used for centuries because they work on all fronts of the problem. [14]

Cancer and who it Affects

Cancer is an amazing complex epidemic for many reasons. Not only it’s medical challenges, but most of the deaths from cancer come from low or middle-income households —  in fact, that number is thought to be as high as 70% of cancer deaths. [15] Despite the limited financial resources of the individuals primarily affected, Western cancer treatments have only skyrocketed in cost in the last two decades. During this time period, it is estimated that new cancer cases are expected to rise by another 70%. Quite simply we don’t have the time OR the money to continue with our expensive ineffective treatment methods.

A Confirmed Relationship Between Stress and Cancer

Another interesting study relates the overall mental health and other issues such as relationship difficulties, loss of a loved one, and stressful lifestyles to increased cancer rates. [13] These sort of intangible problems come with chemical responses in the brain. A lack of dopamine can affect tumor growth and actually limit the bodies ability to fight these cancer cells. In another recent study, it was shown that humans have more obligations and are utilizing technical devices at an unprecedented rate, which have lead to chemical changes in our bodies that could lead to this increase in cancer cases that we have seen.

Even Simple ‘Aromatherapy’ Reduces Stress!

There are many studies noting the simple inhalation or topical application of essential oils can lower markers of stress: heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels and more. Inhalation of Bergamot and Lavender essential oils are the most commonly researched, and can be diffused at home or in the workplace to lower stress levels – something beneficial to every aspect of our health! [19][20]

Specific Essential Oils Showing Confirmed Anti-Cancer Properties

Orange essential oil has specifically been linked to anti-cancer properties in the colon, and show lymph node metastasis.[17]

In a robust study covering all terpene-containing essential oils, spanning over 20 peer-reviewed papers, a number of oils with heavy monoterpene percentages have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.[14] Terpene-based compounds including Sweet Orange, Chinese Fir, Cigarbush, May Chang, Caraway, Basil, Pine, Rosemary, Sage, Ivy Tree, and Shirazi Thyme to name a few were all connected to various types of anti-cancer action in the following cancer cell lines: Breast, Brain, Lung, Liver, Cervix, Myelogenous leukemia, Melanoma, Ovarian, Prostate, and Colon to name a few. These are only the list that we have so far. This article is only from 2017 so within the next 5 years, hopefully, studies like this will increase tenfold!

Oils like Marjorum, Oregano, and Spicy Basil are all linked to having amazing anti-inflammatory properties due to a specific component called carvacrol. These oils also have been shown to be antimicrobial agents, antiseptic, antispasmodic, growth promoter, antifungal, antiviral,  expectorant, antitussive, immunomodulatory, and chemo-preventive (meaning they prevent cells in the laboratory from becoming cancerous!). [16]

These essential oils have been shown to use a number of different compounds to impact the cancer signaling pathways.

This pathway modulation leads to cancer cell death and anti-proliferation of these cancerous cells. Because this isn’t a single compound being introduced into the body, the mechanism of action is still under-explored, but  carvacrol (again, a natural molecule found in many essential oils) seems to be the key agent here because of it’s anti-inflammatory treatment of the cancer cell areas.

Cinnamon Essential Oil: Cancer Cells More Susceptible to Apoptosis than Healthy Cells with Cinnamon in their Environment


Cinnamon essential oil shows anti-cancer activity via multiple mechanisms.

Cinnamon essential oil, and notably its primary component cinnamaldehyde (see Cinnamon’s GC/MS, under ‘Download CofA’ here), have been shown to modulate the cancer pathways and have anti-cancer properties.

“The essential oil obtained from the bark of Cinnamomum ceylanicum, containing 68.95% (E) -cinnamaldehyde showed cytotoxic and apoptotic effects in active (5RP7) and normal (F2408) fibroblastic cells with IC50 values below 20 µg mL-1 for both strains evaluated. 5RP7 cells were more affected than normal cells and the apoptotic effect was dose-dependent. This may indicate the anti-cancer potential of cinnamon bark essential oil.” [2] This means is the cancerous cells were more susceptible to apoptosis than the healthy cells, indicating an important anti-cancer potential.

Further, when cells are exposed to cinnamaldehyde, they produced more of a specific type of protein in the membrane of their mitochondria.[2] This protein, when activated, leads to apoptosis (a process of natural cell death which cancer cells, by definition, do not undergo).

Synergy and a Study Proving Essential Oils can Work together For Anti-Cancer Properties

‘Combine’ is a combination of Frankincense, Geranium and Pine Needle, & ‘PTX’ is a cancer drug. We generally don’t give credit for scientists picking the best essential oils (ie. others may have done a better job), but in this case, it can be noted that essential oil treatment or ‘PTX’ treatment have very close results. Note that ‘External Smear’ of essential oils is not far behind.

To make it clear, these specific oils and specific active components are not the sole keys to fighting a complex biological problem such as cancer. In the opinion of this author and editor, these are tools that can support the body healing itself given all the right, natural-health-providing conditions.

It is the holistic symbiotic approach that happens naturally with essential oils. That is to say that targeting a cancer signaling mechanism may help begin apoptosis, but it’s truly the combination of the anti-pain and anti-inflammation actions – along with the increase in cancer cell apoptosis that helps the potential efficacy of the treatment.

Combining Essential Oils: The Holistic Approach

Each essential oil appears, the research shows, to have one or more of its own mechanisms to address tumor growth/apoptosis of cancerous cells, so it begs the question: What could happen if we blend essential oils with one another to create an even stronger fighting mechanism? Well, it turns out this has started to gain some traction in scientific research, and specifically Frankincense, Geranium, and Pine Needle were used to show dramatic results.

The image above shows WT (without treatment) and a combined treatment (combine) of all three oils using an injection and external smear which results in a large reduction in tumor volume. [11] Also in another study researchers isolated specific components and found they had no effect unless they were used holistically with the other constituents of the essential oil. (Ed. Note: There is other research available confirming this same thing with other conditions – that the “whole” essential oil inevitably works better than what scientists isolate as the supposed “active compound”).

(Ed. Note: I personally losing a family member to cancer right now. She had gone on a completely holistic, well-researched protocol after diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer which had metastasized throughout her body. The protocol included oils being ingested, topically applied and used in a suppository. She was winning the battle – was reported “cancer-free” until her husband ended up in the hospital for 6 weeks, then passed. This was such a large stress that she gave up all aspects of the protocol, and was overcome by the illness. But I was personally witnessing to the fact that, given all the right tools, this determined woman put a complete halt to Stage IV breast cancer. There is no single ‘magic bullet’, but we do, in the West, have all the tools we need, and they are actually affordable. Again, this is only a personal observation, not ‘proof’ and not an advocation! ~ end note)

How are Modern Anti-Cancer Treatments Failing, and why would Essential Oils Be Different?

The solution to a complex biological problem may be a complex biological product, and the chemical diversity of essential oils might just be the key to our fight!

With cancer treatments, we are talking about delivering targeted compounds to specific organs/cells and bypassing different key biological systems in order to deliver the treatment. Each specific organ is unique, and when it relates to its specific cancer treatment, this will also cause a number of challenges.

The first difficult step in drug delivery involves permeability and solubility engineering just to get the synthetic compound to be transferred into the human body without losing any of its chemical structure. Generally, a mildly-toxic delivery ‘vehicle’ need be developed to get the synthetic drug to its target, without hurting anything else in the process.

(This can be likened to chemotherapy: the radiation kills ALL the cells, just, hopefully, the tumorous ones faster. With cancer-cell-killing-drugs, the trick is to get these ONLY to the cancerous cells.)

However, with essential oils and other natural plant medicines, the solubility and permeability of natural plants are much higher than a synthetic drug because of how nature replicates its organic life.

With these benefits along with fewer side effects, we may have had the solution to such a large problem in our backyard the whole time. Nature is indeed the best chemist and has sustained life on our planet since it’s inception. It is our job to leave behind the synthetic artificial anti-cancer approaches that come with large side effects and large costs. We want a solution for the people that this affects, which is low-income families who don’t have any other options. The future of essential oil cancer research will be discussed in our next blog post!

One Final Note: The Pharmaceutical Industry is Already Trying to Mimic What Nature Already Provides!

If you have 20 minutes and would like to think about this interesting feature of “the system”, check out this Ted talk on a Dandelion root and how it helped an entire avenue of cancer research. The talk is titled “Nature, the Best Chemist” and the premise is simple: the cancer industry has been trying to mimic natures approach to our biological systems and the solution was literally in his backyard!

Thank you for reading. While we cannot make any specific recommendations, we’ll answer all the questions we can on this post.



Western Medicine vs Eastern Medicine Image Source


[2] Andrade, Milene Aparecida, et al. “Anticancer Properties of Essential Oils: an Overview.”Current Cancer Drug Targets, vol. 18, 2018, doi:10.2174/1568009618666180102105843.

[3] Dimas, K., et al. “Labd-14-Ene-8,13-Diol (Sclareol) Induces Cell Cycle Arrest And Apoptosis In Human Breast Cancer Cells And Enhances TheActivity Of Anticancer Drugs.”Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, vol. 60, no. 3, 2006, pp. 127–133., doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2006.01.003.

[4] Bhalla, Yashika, et al. “Anticancer Activity of Essential Oils: a Review.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 93, no. 15, 2013, pp. 3643–3653., doi:10.1002/jsfa.6267.

[5] Martin, Tracey. “ANTI-METASTATIC AND CYTOTOXIC PROPERTIES OF FRANKINCENSE AND SCENTED MYRRH.” Anticancer Research, vol. 35, 2015, pp. 4283–4370.

[6] Ni, Xiao, et al. “Frankincense Essential Oil Prepared from Hydrodistillation of Boswellia Sacra Gum Resins Induces Human Pancreatic Cancer Cell Death in Cultures and in a Xenograft Murine Model.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, BioMed Central, 13 Dec. 2012,

[7] Implication of Limonene and Linalyl Acetate in Cytotoxicity Induced by Bergamot Essential Oil in Human Neuroblastoma Cells.” Fitoterapia, Elsevier, 23 May 2013,

[8] Dozmorov, Mikhail G, et al. “Differential Effects of Selective Frankincense ( Ru Xiang ) Essential Oil versus Non-Selective Sandalwood ( Tan Xiang ) Essential Oil on Cultured Bladder Cancer Cells: a Microarray and Bioinformatics Study.” Chinese Medicine, BioMed Central, 2 July 2014,

[9] Jaafari-Ashkavandi, Zohreh, et al. “The Effects of Frankincense on Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cell Line.” International Journal of Cancer Management, Kowsar, 1 Jan. 1970,

[10] Aggarwal, Bharat B., et al. “Anticancer Potential of Curcumin: Preclinical and Clinical Studies.”Anticancer Research, International Institute of Anticancer Research,

[11] RenPeng, et al. “Frankincense, Pine Needle and Geranium Essential Oils Suppress Tumor Progression through the Regulation of the AMPK/MTOR Pathway in Breast Cancer.”Oncology Reports, Spandidos Publications, 1 Jan. 2018,

[12] Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Group Study of the Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of THC:CBD Extract and THC Extract in Patients with Intractable Cancer-Related Pain.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Elsevier, 5 Nov. 2009,

[13] Moreno-Smith, Myrthala, et al. Future Oncology (London, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2010,

[14] Milene Aparecida Andrade, Mariana Aparecida Braga, Pedro Henrique Souza Cesar, Marcus Vinicius Cardoso Trento, Mariana Araujo Esposito and Lucilene Fernandes Silva*. “Anticancer Properties of Essential Oils: An Overview.”Http://, 2017,

[15] Vrdoljak, E, et al. “Cancer Epidemiology in Central, South and Eastern European Countries.” Croatian Medical Journal,

[16] “Anti-Inflammatory, Tissue Remodeling, Immunomodulatory, and Anticancer Activities of Oregano (Origanum Vulgare) Essential Oil in a Human Skin Disease Model.” Biochimie Open, Elsevier, 3 Mar. 2017,

[17]“D-Limonene Rich Volatile Oil from Blood Oranges Inhibits Angiogenesis, Metastasis and Cell Death in Human Colon Cancer Cells.” Life Sciences, Pergamon, 20 Aug. 2012,

[18] Souto-Maior FN1, de Carvalho FL, de Morais LC, Netto SM, de Sousa DP, de Almeida RN. “Anxiolytic-like effects of inhaled linalool oxide in experimental mouse anxiety models.”, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 2011 Dec;100(2):259-63. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2011.08.029.

[19] Hosseini S, Heydari A, Vakili M, Moghadam S, Tazyky S. “Effect of lavender essence inhalation on the level of anxiety and blood cortisol in candidates for open-heart surgery.”, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 2016 Jul-Aug;21(4):397-401

[20] Watanabe E1, Kuchta K, Kimura M, Rauwald HW, Kamei T, Imanishi J. “Effects of bergamot ( Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity, and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females.”, Forchende Komplimentarmedizin, 2015;22(1):43-9. doi: 10.1159/000380989


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