Biomodulation of cancer chemotherapy for metastatic colorectal cancer: a randomized study of weekly low-dose irinotecan alone versus irinotecan plus the oncostatic pineal hormone melatonin in metastatic colorectal cancer patients progressing on 5-fluorouracil-containing combinations

Anticancer Res. 2003 Mar-Apr;23(2C):1951-4.


Recent advances in immunobiological knowledge have suggested the possibility of enhancing the therapeutic activity of various chemotherapeutic agents by a concomitant administration of anti-oxidant drugs and/or immunomodulating neurohormones. In particular, the pineal neurohormone melatonin (MLT), which is able to exert both antioxidant and immunomodulating effects, has been proven to enhance the efficacy of various chemotherapeutic drugs, namely cisplatin, anthracyclines and 5-fluorouracil, whereas at present there are no data about its possible influence on cytotoxic drugs effective in the treatment of colon cancer other than 5-fluorouracil, such as irinotecan (CPT-11). The present study was performed to evaluate the influence of a concomitant administration of MLT on CPT-11 therapeutic activity in metastatic colorectal cancer. The study included 30 metastatic colorectal cancer patients progressing after at least one previous chemotherapeutic line containing 5-fluorouracil, who were randomized to be treated with CPT-11 alone or CPT-11 plus MLT. According to a weekly low-dose schedule, CPT-11 was given i.v. at 125 mg/m2/week for 9 consecutive weeks. MLT was administered orally at 20 mg/day during the dark period of the day. No complete response was observed. A partial response (PR) was achieved in 2 out of 16 patients treated with CPT-11 alone and in 5 out of 14 patients concomitantly treated with MLT. Moreover, a stable disease (SD) was obtained in 5 out of 16 patients treated with CPT-11 alone and in 7 out of 14 patients treated with CPT-11 plus MLT. Therefore, the percent of disease-control achieved in patients concomitantly treated with MLT was significantly higher than that observed in those treated with chemotherapy alone (12 out of 14 vs 7 out of 16, p < 0.05). The only important toxicity was diarrhoea grade 3-4, which occurred in 6 out of 16 patients treated with CPT-11 alone and in 4 out of 14 patients treated with CPT-11 plus MLT, which required a 50% dose reduction. However, taken together, patients treated with CPT-11 at 50% of the planned dose showed a percent of disease control comparable to that achieved in patients who had no dose reduction (6 out of 10 vs 13 out of 20). This preliminary study shows that the efficacy of weekly low-dose CPT-11 in pretreated metastatic colorectal cancer patients may be enhanced by a concomitant daily administration of the pineal hormone MLT, according to the results previously reported for other chemotherapeutic agents. Moreover, since the dose reduction of CPT-11 does not influence its efficacy, the dose of CPT-11 for successive studies might be not greater than 70 mg/m2.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Camptothecin / administration & dosage
  • Camptothecin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Camptothecin / therapeutic use*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irinotecan
  • Male
  • Melatonin / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Irinotecan
  • Melatonin
  • Camptothecin