Perillyl Alcohol

Perillyl Alcohol

Perillyl Alcohol

Common Names

  • Perillyl
  • POH

For Patients & Caregivers

Perillyl alcohol has not been shown to treat cancer in humans.

Perillyl alcohol is a natural substance called a monoterpene, isolated from the essential oils of lavender, peppermint, spearmint, cherries, celery seeds, and several other plants. Scientists are not exactly sure how perillyl alcohol works, but laboratory evidence suggests that it interferes with the replication of dividing cells. Perillyl alcohol has shown promising anti-tumor activity against a range of cancer types (including pancreatic, stomach, colon, skin, and liver cancers) in animals and in the laboratory setting, but these results often do not translate into effects in humans.

  • To prevent and treat cancer
    Although evidence from laboratory and animal experiments suggests that perillyl alcohol has anti-tumor activity against a number of cancers, such in vitro results often do not translate to the human body. A few phase I clinical trials and one phase II clinical trial do not support the use of perillyl alcohol to treat cancer. Preliminary results from one study reported benefits with perillyl alcohol. More research is needed.
  • Nausea
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Early satiety
  • Fatigue
  • At high doses (> 2800 mg/m2/day) toxicity can develop, including nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, hypokalemia (dangerously low blood potassium levels), stomatitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth), and loss of appetite.
Back to top

For Healthcare Professionals

p-metha,1,7-diene-6-ol, 4-isopropenyl-cyclohexenecarbinol

Derived from essential oils in various botanicals including lavender, peppermint, cherries, sage, and lemongrass, perillyl alcohol is used to prevent and treat cancer. It is a cyclic monoterpene that causes G1 cell cycle arrest, induces apoptosis, and inhibits post-translational modification of signal transduction proteins (1) (2).

In vitro studies show that perillyl alcohol has antiangiogenesis (9) and anticancer (11) (12) (16) (17) effects.

Data from clinical trials are conflicting: Perillyl alcohol did not benefit patients with pancreatic cancer (10), skin cancer (13), or in those with treatment-refractory breast cancer (14), but preliminary results from a study of patients with malignant gliomas reported regression of tumor size (15). Further research is needed.

Dose-limiting toxicities reported at higher levels include stomatitis, hypokalemia, nausea, and fatigue (2) (8).

  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment

The metabolites of perillyl alcohol, perillic acid and dihydroperillic acid, may inhibit tumor growth through inhibition of p21 dependent signaling and apoptosis resulting from induction of the transforming growth factor beta-signaling pathway (1) (2). Perillyl alcohol metabolites also appear to cause G1 cell cycle arrest, inhibit posttranslational modification of signal transduction proteins, and cause differential expression of cell cycle- and apoptosis-related genes (3).

Activity of perillyl alcohol was demonstrated in animal models with pancreatic, stomach, colon (4), skin, and liver cancers (5). The role of perillyl alcohol for chemoprevention remains unknown as data are inconsistent.

Common: At (1600 mg/m2/day), nausea, unpleasant taste, early satiety, and fatigue are common. (3) (10)
Toxicity: At (1200 mg/m2/day), one instance of hypokalemia has been reported (10).
At (doses > 2800 mg/m2/day), nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, hypokalemia, stomatitis, and anorexia have been reported. (2)

  1. Belanger JT. Perillyl alcohol: applications in oncology. Altern Med Rev 1998;3:448-57.

  2. Murren JR, et al. Phase I study of perillyl alcohol in patients with refractory malignancies. Cancer Biol Ther 2002;1:130-5.

  3. Azzoli C, et al. A phase I trial of perillyl alcohol in patients with advanced solid tumors. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 2003 Jun;51(6):493-8.

  4. Loutrari H, Hatziapostolou M, Skouridou V, Papadimitriou E, Roussos C, Kolisis FN, Papapetropoulos A. Perillyl alcohol is an angiogenesis inhibitor. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2004 Jun 21

  5. Liu G, Oettel K, Bailey H, Ummersen LV, Tutsch K, Staab MJ, Horvath D, Alberti D, Arzoomanian R, Rezazadeh H, McGovern J, Robinson E, DeMets D, Wilding G. Phase II trial of perillyl alcohol (NSC 641066) administered daily in patients with metastatic androgen independent prostate cancer. Invest New Drugs. 2003 Aug;21(3):367-72.

  6. Fernandes J, da Fonseca CO, Teixeira A, Gattass CR. Perillyl alcohol induces apoptosis in human glioblastoma multiforme cells. Oncol Rep. 2005 May;13(5):943-7.

  7. Stratton SP, Alberts DS, Einspahr JG, et al. A phase 2a study of topical perillyl alcohol cream for chemoprevention of skin cancer. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2010 Feb;3(2):160-9.

  8. Bailey HH, Attia S, Love RR, et al. Phase II trial of daily oral perillyl alcohol (NSC 641066) in treatment-refractory metastatic breast cancer. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2008 Jun;62(1):149-57.
  9. da Fonseca CO, Schwartsmann G, Fischer J, et al. Preliminary results from a phase I/II study of perillyl alcohol intranasal administration in adults with recurrent malignant gliomas. Surg Neurol. 2008 Sep;70(3):259-66; discussion 266-7.

  10. Koyama M, Sowa Y, Hitomi T, et al. Perillyl alcohol causes G1 arrest through p15(INK4b) and p21(WAF1/Cip1) induction.Oncol Rep. 2013 Feb;29(2):779-84.

Back to top
Back to top
Email your questions and comments to

Last Updated