[Stress, cancer and circadian rhythm of melatonin]

Pathol Biol (Paris). 2005 Jun;53(5):269-72. doi: 10.1016/j.patbio.2004.12.018. Epub 2005 Jan 20.
[Article in French]


Influence of stress on immunity and pathogenesis relates to corticotropic axis: hypothalamus-hypophysis-surrenals (HHS). Its over-stimulation due to traumas during early childhood or before birth seems to generate brain abnormalities such as reduction of hippocampus volume. More typical of adult age, hypothalamus-pineal gland axis (HP), responsible for melatonin production, may be impaired because of chronic stress, mainly through sleep disturbances or addictive behaviours. Old age has been reported to produce same impairments. Circadian cycle of melatonin is closely related to immune functions and its disturbance seems to induce, among populations undergoing frequent changes of life rhythm, a significant raise of cancer incidence: night shift workers, air pilots... Stress then seems enable to increase cancer risk through its negative impact on HHS and HP axis and therefore on immunity. Immunotherapy, which was an interesting solution considering this, has not yield yet expected results. Upstream, other ways have been successfully investigated in prospective randomised trials, such as psychotherapeutic treatments, with positive effects on cellular immunity and survival. The ability to condition immune responses in animals allows thinking that hypnotherapy could also be used along with standard treatments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism
  • Pineal Gland / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*


  • Melatonin