Melatonin Could Help Patients on Chemotherapy

One of the serious drawbacks of chemotherapy is the resultant destruction of
many aspects of the immune system along with destruction of various blood
cells. In experiments on rodents, it has been shown that melatonin could
counteract chemotherapy-induced immune suppression. To test whether this same
positive response could be replicated in humans, Dr. Lissoni and colleagues,
from the Division of Radiation Oncology, S. Gerardo Hospital, in Milan,
Italy, evaluated the role of melatonin given with the chemotherapy. Eighty
patients were randomized to receive either the chemotherapy alone, or the
chemotherapy with melatonin. Thirty-five of these patients had lung cancer,
31 had breast cancer, and 14 had various gastrointestinal tract tumors. Lung
cancer patients were receiving cisplatin, the breast cancer patients were
being treated with mitoxantrone, and the patients with gastrointestinal
tumors were receiving 5-fluorouracil. The melatonin was given in the evening
at a dose of 20 mg.

At the end of the study, patients given the melatonin had a higher number of
platelets, had less weakness, and less nerve damage. Loss of hair and nausea
were not influenced by the melatonin. The authors say, “This pilot study
seems to suggest that the concomitant administration of the pineal hormone
melatonin during chemotherapy may prevent some chemotherapy-induced
side-effects, particularly myelosuppression and neuropathy.”

Comments: Over the past few years a number of studies have shown that
melatonin plays a positive role in the therapy of cancer patients. At this
point, we don’t know the ideal dose of melatonin to use with various types of
cancers, nor do we know the ideal time to administer this hormone. However,
there is enough evidence at this time to serious consider the nightly use of
a small amount of melatonin, perhaps in the 0.5 to 3 mg range, in anyone who
has cancer. However, this should be done under the guidance of health care

Lissoni P, Tancini G, Barni S, Paolorossi F, Ardizzoia A, Conti A, Maestroni
G. Treatment of cancer chemotherapy-induced toxicity with the pineal hormone
melatonin. Support Care Cancer, March, 5:126-9, 1997.

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Written by Ray Sahelian MD

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