There is considerable evidence that melatonin may be of use in the prevention and treatment of cancer. This manuscript will review some of the human, animal and cellular studies that provide evidence that melatonin has oncostatic properties.
Confirmation that melatonin mitigates pathogenesis of cancer will be described from both direct study of its effects on carcinogenesis, and from indirect findings implicating disruption of the circadian cycle. A distinction is made between the role of melatonin in preventing the initiation of the tumorigenic pathway and the ability of melatonin to retard the progression of cancer. Melatonin appears to slow down the rate of advancement of established tumors and there is evidence that it constitutes a valuable complement to standard pharmacological and radiation treatment modalities. There are instances of the beneficial outcomes in cancer treatment which utilize a range of hormones and vitamins, melatonin being among the constituents of the mix. While these complex blends are empirically promising, they are only briefly mentioned here in view of the confounding influence of a multiplicity of agents studied simultaneously.
The last section of this review examines the molecular mechanisms that potentially underlie the oncostatic effects of melatonin. Alterations in gene expression following activation of various transcription factors, are likely to be an important mediating event. These changes in gene activity not only relate to cancer but also to the aging process which underlies the onset of most tumors. In addition, epigenetic events such as modulation of histone acetylation and DNA methylation patterns throughout the lifespan of organisms need to be considered. The antioxidant and immunoregulatory roles of melatonin may also contribute to its cancer modulatory properties. Naturally, these mechanisms overlap and interact extensively.
Nevertheless, in the interest of clarity and ease of reading, each is discussed as a separate topic section. The report ends with some general conclusions concerning the clinical value of melatonin which has been rather overlooked and understudied.