Radiotherapy is one of the treatments of choice in many types of cancer. Adjuvant treatments to radiotherapy try, on one hand, to enhance the response of tumor cells to radiation and, on the other hand, to reduce the side effects to normal cells.
Radiosensitizers are agents that increase the effect of radiation in tumor cells by trying not to increase side effects in normal tissues. Melatonin is a hormone produced mainly by the pineal gland which has an important role in the regulation of cancer growth, especially in hormone-dependent mammary tumors. Different studies have showed that melatonin administered with radiotherapy is able to enhance its therapeutic effects and can protect normal cells against side effects of this treatment.
Several mechanisms are involved in the radiosensitization induced by melatonin: increase of reactive oxygen species production, modulation of proteins involved in estrogen biosynthesis, impairment of tumor cells to DNA repair, modulation of angiogenesis, abolition of inflammation, induction of apoptosis, stimulation of preadipocytes differentiation and modulation of metabolism.
At this moment, there are very few clinical trials that study the therapeutic usefulness to associate melatonin and radiotherapy in humans. All findings point to melatonin as an effective adjuvant molecule to radiotherapy in cancer treatment.