Melatonin is an often-overlooked supplement that can be taken by cancer patients to mitigate the negative effects of chemo and radiation therapy, and simultaneously act as a powerful anticancer agent. It also has the added benefit of acting as a potent sleep aid.
Some of the most common side effects in higher doses, are headaches, dizziness, and sleepiness if taken during the day. It might also interact with other medications, so keep your doctor informed and start with a small dose and work your way up.1 During treatment I experienced headaches after taking it for three weeks and reduced the dose down from 20 mg to 10 mg, and then down to 3 mg.
Melatonin is a hormone in the body, which supports the endocrine system. Its primary function is to regulate sleep-wake cycles, and it can be an excellent sleep aid. A number of studies strongly suggest melatonin has anti-tumoral effects and improves survival in cancer patients. According to one study, “Taking high doses of melatonin with chemotherapy or other cancer treatments might reduce tumor size and improve survival rates in people with tumors.”2 In an extensive study in the Journal of Pineal Research, 30 node-relapsed melanoma patients who had completed chemotherapy were randomized to receive no treatment, or 20 mg of melatonin orally in the evening.
After a median follow-up of 31 months, the percent of DFS [disease free survival] was significantly higher in melatonin-treated individuals than in controls. The DFS curve was also significantly longer in the melatonin group than in controls. No melatonin related toxicity was observed.3
This study indicates that melatonin is effective at inhibiting progression of node relapsed melanoma patients. Other research suggests melatonin may be a beneficial adjunct to chemo and radiation therapy, based on studies done in test tubes and animals. These studies suggest melatonin stimulates the P53 gene, which can cause cancer cell suicide.4 Additional studies suggest melatonin reduces the toxicity of chemo and radiation and even enhances their ability to kill cancer cells.
Studies have shown that patients taking melatonin (20 mg a day) had significantly less weight loss (3 kg vs. 16 kg) and a lower chance of disease progression (53 percent vs. 90 percent) compared with those treated with supportive care.5
In a study of chemotherapy versus chemo-endocrine therapy as a first line of treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients, the outcomes were substantially better for the chemo-endocrine therapy patients. One-year survival was significantly higher in patients treated with melatonin plus chemotherapy (15 out of 34), compared to those who received chemotherapy alone (7 out of 36). Of note, one of the melatonin patients experienced a complete response, meaning their advanced cancer went into remission. Patients who received melatonin also tolerated the chemo side effects much better than those who did not. Specifically, the frequency of bone marrow suppression, neuropathy, and cachexia was significantly lower in the melatonin group. This study shows that melatonin may improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and reduce toxicity in patients in poor clinical condition.6
1. “Is Melatonin a Helpful Sleep Aid - and What Should I Know About Melatonin Side Effects?” Answers from Brent A. Baurer, M.D., http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/melatonin -side-effects/faq-20057874 (accessed December 9, 2015).
2. “Melatonin - How Effective Is It?” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/drug info/natural/940.html (accessed December 9, 2015).
3. Lissoni P, Brivio O, Brivio F, et al. “Adjuvant Therapy with the Pineal Hormone Melatonin in Patients with Lymph Node Relapse due to Malignant Melanoma,” Abstract, Journal of Pineal Research, pages 239–242, November 1996,http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/ 10.1111/j.1600-079X.1996.tb00292.x/abstract (accessed December 9, 2015).
4. “How to Prevent and Treat Cancer . . .,” 242.
5. Ibid., 243.
6. Lissoni P, Palorossi F, et al. “A Randomized Study of Chemotherapy with Cisplatin Plus Etoposide Versus Chemoendocrine Therapy with Cisplatin, Etoposide and the Pineal Hormone Melatonin as a First-Line Treatment of Advanced Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) Patients in a Poor Clinical State.” Abstract, Journal of Pineal Research, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 15-19, August 1997. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/ 10.1111 /j.1600-079X.1997.tb00329.x/abstract (accessed December 9, 2015).